Do you have any regrets? I recently wrote on my struggle for happiness and the fear that unhappy feelings makes me a bad Christian. You can read it here. This fear pushes many of us to slap on a fake smile and hope no one discovers our secret. Something really resonated because that one post was read more than all my other 2014 posts combined. It appears that we share a common experience. So what do we do? Here is what I did.
I asked myself (and the Lord) what was really bothering me.
It’s tough to solve problems that you can’t identify, so I started there. I realized that I was in a hole and that I didn’t want to stay there. But, why was I in a hole? Why was I feeling down and frustrated and hopeless? What was giving rise to this? When you find yourself responding to situations with a lot of emotion or in ways that you don’t really want to, it is a great discipline to just ask the Lord, “What is going on here?” Invite the Holy Spirit to counsel you. Jesus said that is why the Father sent him in John 14:26
I proceeded to make a list of all the things that were grinding on me. I had a list of about seven specific things and I would categorize at least four of them as regrets. They were things that I wish that I had done differently because I simply don’t like the results that I have gotten. Regrets. Maybe you have some too. The problem is that if we don’t deal with them, our past overwhelms our future. I don’t want that and I want out of my hole. Here is what I am working on:
1. Where I can, I will do something about the regret.
Sometimes, the story isn’t over and we can help write a different ending. And that is encouraging to me because the ending is what really matters. Life is messy and any good story has some points of tension along the way. We need to look at our regrets and see if there is an opportunity to reform the choices that we have made. At times our regrets have to do with sins that we commit against others or relationships that have been mishandled in some way. We have the responsibility to address those situations by confessing our mistakes and seeking to make things right. Even if the relationship isn’t fully restored in the end, you bring a proper closure to it by doing the right thing and you can move forward.
2. Be a disciple and learn.
A disciple is a learner. I challenged everyone to set the simple resolution of being a learner in 2014 here. I want to keep reminding myself that everything is always about learning to follow Jesus and growing to be like him. Learning through our regrets isn’t especially satisfying in the moment. It’s like eating green beans. I choke them down because I figure it will do me some good in the long run. Learning from our mistakes is kinda like that. There is not a lot of joy at the time, but the value in that life experience is manifested when we use it to learn and grow.
3. Enjoy the grace of God.
As a perfectionist, I tend to be incredibly hard on myself. It makes the regrets pile up and self flagellation comes easily. The beautiful thing is while I am merciless on myself and can’t forget the times that I blow it, God is full of mercy and can’t remember my mistakes. Hebrews 8:12 says “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,and I will remember their sins no more.” (ESV) The grace of God gives you and me permission to move on. Did you here that? You have permission from God to move on. Incredible. I’m still trying to learn how to grab hold of this on a practical level, but I believe God’s Word is true and it starts there.
4. Focus on the mission ahead.
I remember reading somewhere that we can’t let our regrets overpower our aspirations. I like that. We need a a better vision of our future that inspires us to pick ourselves up, climb out of the hole and move on. We may not be able to change the past but we can choose a better future. We can decide who we are going to be moving forward and press on in that direction. A great vision of the future enables us to leave the past in the hole and climb out to live with hope and passion.
My goal is to keep these ideas before me. I find that praying through them and asking God to deposit them in my heart really helps.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” -Phillipians 3:13