Regret. The very word brings to mind sorrow over sin, poor choices, and unwise decisions. And I’m not just talking about that crazy-looking shirt you wore to a wedding or that second slice of Aunt Maggie’s outrageously tasty apple pie. I’m talking about things that can have long-standing impact on ourselves and others.
Although we sometimes hear about a life lived ‘without regrets,’ we know there’s no such thing as that. We all have regrets that often coexist with feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, grief, and even anger — anger at oneself . . . anger at others . . . even anger at God. As Christians we are particularly prone to experience regret, especially over things said or done after our point of salvation — when we knew the right thing to do and intentionally chose to go in a different direction.
Regret can be a powerful force in our lives, distracting us from the reality of life in the present and taking us back to the past with retrospection and hindsight that amounts to chasing after the wind. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life had an ‘undo’ button? Or at least a ‘reset’ button? Sometimes we experience regret from the time an ungracious word rolls off the tongue. Sometimes we listen not to the gentle spirit of God but rather to the lying and conniving voice of Satan who, as with Adam in Eve, craftily persuades us to tune out the potential consequences of our choices and simply live for the moment. The truth is that our society encourages and to some extent rewards hedonism. If you doubt it, just watch most any ‘reality TV’ show from ‘Big Brother’ to ‘The Bachelor,’ and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
People of all ages and life stages experience regret. Children and teenagers today live at the speed of light and are bombarded daily with multiple competing messages and worldviews. And I don’t just mean text messages. Think for a moment about the messages kids get from such things as billboards, commercials, photos, friends, parents, teachers, the internet, etc. We know that many of these messages point them not in the direction of life but rather in the direction of destruction. Many kids today are completely overwhelmed by the pressures and stressors of growing up too fast and being too isolated from the adults in their lives. Pair social isolation with an overdose of modern technology, and you get a climate that is practically devoid of extended times of peace and quiet during which we are most likely to hear and discern the voice of God. Unfortunately, a large number of these kids are merely following the haphazard examples of their way-too-busy parents. Faced with a complex and divergent set of messages and a hurried lifestyle, kids often find themselves making choices that they will regret for the rest of their lives.
As I look back on this calendar year, I regret to say that I too have regrets — not only for the things I said or did but also for the things I didn’t say or didn’t do that I know I should have. I regret the times when I failed to treat my wife and kids with kindness and respect. I regret the harsh words spoken in anger and frustration to those I love. I regret the times when I passed judgment on others with little thought about my own dirty laundry.
I regret not spending more time seeking God through prayer and Bible study. I regret the missed opportunities to spend time with others, to encourage those in despair, and to share the love of Christ with those who need to hear it. I regret many of the moments that I focused on myself rather than the needs of others. I regret things I ate, things I watched, things I read, things I listened to. More than anything in the world, I regret listening to the lies of Satan, spoken through a variety of mediums, that said simply, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine. It’s a gray area. It doesn’t matter what you do.”
You see, one thing we can count on in life is the predictability of the evil one in his dealings with believers. He knows he cannot have us, but he sure can minimize our witness and our effectiveness as followers of Christ. Satan looks for our points of weakness, our emotional vulnerabilities, and our sins from the past — and he pounces like a lion waiting to devour us. But his pounces are often carefully masked as seemingly innocuous opportunities rather than potentially life-altering temptations. He taps into our shame and guilt and forces those things to the forefront of our minds, where we then turn our focus back to the past with its sorrow, shame, and regret. This is the cornerstone that enables a cycle of shame and guilt that can greatly hinder our ability to accept forgiveness from God and extend forgiveness to ourselves.
My challenge to you in this coming year is to remember that God is in the business of healing, restoring, and transforming lives. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, He gives us the opportunity to experience new life — abundant life here on earth and eternal life in heaven with Him. And even if you’ve done some pretty awful things that grieve you deeply, be assured that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
As you think through your own version of 2010, I challenge you to honestly acknowledge your sins and regrets to God. Ask his forgiveness for anything that may be unconfessed and is still weighing you down mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Visualize yourself actually transferring those burdens into the capable hands of a gracious and merciful God. He sent us Jesus that we might experience freedom, yet so often we choose insecurity, doubt, and bondage. Perhaps there is someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness; that can be a freeing thing indeed.
God does not want us to live stuck in the miry pit of our past. He wants us to live with His power in the present, with an eye on the future in anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ. I’m reminded of the lyrics of an old song that speaks poignantly of God’s faithfulness and power:
There is no problem too big God cannot solve it.
There is no mountain too tall He cannot move it.
There is no storm too dark God cannot calm it.
There is no sorrow too deep He cannot soothe it.
If He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders,
I know, my brother that He will carry You.
As you look forward to the new year, you can be sure that you’ll generate new regrets. It happens. We’re human. But bear in mind that His grace is sufficient for those who believe. Another song puts it this way: “I know many times I’ve been out of His will, but I’ve never been out of His care.” I don’t really know if that line passes the sniff test of the world’s great theologians, but I know those words have spoken to my own heart through the years. Be assured that God has a purpose and plan for each one of us. I don’t know what that looks like for you, but I know that it includes the freedom and peace that comes when we discover new life in Christ — and daily seek counsel from His Word. Perhaps you can use a fresh start in some area of life. Be encouraged by these words from the apostle Paul:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Phil. 3:13b-14, NIV
I won’t wish you a year without regrets, but I will wish you a year of good health, personal growth, and Christ-based freedom. May 2011 be a banner year for you, a year in which you focus more closely on the things that matter most. May the love and joy of the Lord richly abound in you and flow through you in the year to come.
Perhaps you’re here for the first time and curious about this ‘new life’ that comes through Jesus Christ. Feel free to contact me, and I’ll be glad to visit with you.
IT’S YOUR TURN!
Assuming that you take some time to reflect on the past year and think forward to the new year, what does that process look like for you? (i.e., journaling, discussing with a friend, etc.) Do you need to confess and seek forgiveness from God? From others? Do you have someone to hold you accountable for any personal goals that you set?