I run into two kinds of Jesus-followers. The ‘good guys’ who grew up in church, mostly did the right thing and ended up marrying the homecoming queen. The second kind ‘wandered off the farm’ and screwed up in royal fashion. These men (of which I am one) crashed and burned . . . became humbled and broken. Jesus found them, forgave them and turned their lives around. This second kind of Christ-follower deals with regret. A lot.
They often think “If only I had . . . ” or “What was I thinking when . . . ?” They know they’re forgiven but they regret hurting the people they love. Or putting themselves ‘behind the eight-ball’ financially. Some regret is relational . . . a divorce, an estranged parent or child. Often it’s financial . . . a bankruptcy, a house you can no longer afford, a partnership headed for court, a rental house that remains empty. Sometimes it’s health related . . . “If only I’d stopped smoking” or “If only I hadn’t skipped my physical.”
So if you ‘can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube’, what do you do? Four ideas . . .
- Own the ‘new you’ – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) isn’t just a religious metaphor. It reflects the truth and depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and His provision for us to recover from them. He replaced a dead, sinful heart with His living, loving, pure heart. If you feel guilty about past behavior, you’re missing out on His amazing grace. He cleared your record completely. You’re starting fresh today and every day.
- Own the ‘dead you’ – The sins, failures and decisions you made were buried with the ‘dead you.’ That sinful man is dead and buried, and so are the sins that created your regrets. He“no longer lives, but Christ lives in him.” Those events are over. Even though they were awful and you’d do things differently given another chance, God uses everything for His glory. As I tell my mentees, He can use even the worst decision in a good way as a bad example.
- Put it away – Sometimes we hold onto things we regret. We hope for a miracle rather than face our failure. Things become symbols of our ‘fleshly’ selves, reminding us of our past and keeping us from our future. Sometimes we need to shutter the business, sell the rental property at a loss, trade in the flashy car or give away the golf clubs. Getting rid of physical reminders of things you regret can help you move on.
- Own what you did and learn from it – Experience isn’t a great teacher, but examined experience is. Take a clean sheet of paper and write out what you regret. Be brutally honest. “I regret that I __________.” Then write “When I face that situation again, I will __________” and state your plan for what you’ll do next time. Ask God for the wisdom to clearly see your mistake(s) and the courage to do the wise thing next time.
We all deal with regret. The Apostle Paul had plenty. He wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). I can imagine him reliving his persecution of Christians or holding the coats of those who were stoning Stephen. His words show he struggled with the same stuff we do . . . owning his new identity in Christ, letting go of his past sins and mistakes and owning the death of ‘Paul’ who did all the horrible stuff.
Remember, Christ’s death was payment for all your sin, which probably covers most of what you regret. To bring those regrets back to the fore and give them attention wastes the blood of Christ. It was intended to pay for them once and for all. When you bring those decisions back up and wallow in them again through regret, you’re giving away the freedom He died to give you. Think about that one.
Question: Has God shown you ways of dealing with regret? Share them with us here.
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