“Mike and Sarah have such a good marriage. Look how in-love they are—even after 20 years! We could never be like them. I regret all the mistakes we’ve made.”
“Did I really marry the right guy? I mean he’s been ok as a husband and father, but it sure has been a very difficult road. I sometimes wish I had married someone else.”
“Jerry has done so well. I’d love to have the salary, retirement, and the sense of accomplishment he has. I regret that I chose the path I did.”
Regrets. We all have them. Whether it’s an unsatisfying relationships or career; regrets cling to us like an old sock to underwear after passing through the drier without fabric softener. One area where regrets are especially painful is in parenting.
We might muse, “I regret not being the spiritual leader to my children that I should have been. No wonder my children are struggling spiritually.”
Many conscientious parents will look back over the years and fall into the fetal position over their mistakes ranging from the silly to the willful. We regret things we have done that were wrong. We regret the things we have not done that were right.
For me, the mistakes that seem to hurt the most are the ones I made in ignorance, i.e. the ones I made because I was young, idealistic, and lacking practical life wisdom. For example, how many men reading this who have adult children wish they had spent more time in the office? I doubt many. I think most wish they had invested more heavily in their children than they did. Finding boundaries during those years is particularly hard. The pressures of providing for a family are like a London fog that makes it hard to see other important responsibilities.
Replaying Our Regrets Over and Over
Whatever the case, do your mistakes play over and over again in your head? Maybe they sound to you like a reworded version of Nat King Cole’s famous song, Unforgettable? Regrettable…in every way… regrettable… that’s what you are… that’s how I’ll stay…
Stop The Downward Spiral
How do you stop the downward spiral into the black hole of regret?
First, where our choices were clearly wrong, we are forgiven in Christ. Because we are forgiven in Christ, we can ask forgiveness of God and those we wronged for specific sins. Forgiveness is the Mount Everest of promises that when accessed by faith, provides real freedom that sometimes is enough by itself and at other times the powerful start to a more difficult but hopeful journey. Either way, it can lift us out of the downward spiral of regret.
Things Might Not be Different
Second, it is helpful to realize that there is no guarantee that a different choice would have resulted in a better outcome. You could have made different decisions back then and things could still have turned out the same. “I could’ve spent more time with the kids”, “I could have chosen a different career path” and still struggle the same way. A child could still have walked away from Christ. The same laziness would still beset him. The same lack of direction would still plaque him.
All Things Work Together for Good
Third, Rom 8:28-30. These are verses quoted often but their encouragement is always and especially relevant when crumbling under the emotional elephant of regret. “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” “All” means good and bad. Who are those who love God? Only those who have been indwelt by his Holy Spirit. Those who believe the gospel. This is a promise from God. The truth shall set you free.
Because God is sovereign, he is able to use the bad things for good in our lives. When looking back on mistakes, we are free to ask, “Ok, what have I learned?” Interesting—only people who are at peace with God can honestly ask that question. Because we are in Christ, we are safe. Our poor performance does not reduce our righteousness and thus our standing with God. Working from that security, we can look at the situation, own it, and grow in our understanding of God’s grace and mercy. It may be hard to discern but it is there.
Fourth, we are exiles and sojourners. The mindset of the sojourner is long term. The more long term perspective we have, the more we are able to navigate the challenges of our mistakes and poor choices. Time passes as we seek God, repent of our sin, and aim to walk more faithfully.
Time and Wounds
I don’t believe time heals all wounds. I believe God can heal wounds over time. Real consequences and residue might still remain but God’s grace and mercy are not impotent. They are powerful although the truth of that is measured not usually in immediate relief but the calm, confident assurance that we are going to be ok because we are united to a loving and merciful God through Christ. We are assured of his faith-sustaining presence through to the end—and beyond.
Light and Darkness
The biblical analogy of light in darkness seems a fitting end to my comments. The light of the gospel of grace and mercy outshines the darkness of regret and it does this in a way that also exposes the ultimate impotency of the darkness itself. We have already won the battle through Christ.
As ones who have that hope within us through the gleaming light of The Word ministered by his Holy Spirit in our hearts; we have the power to overcome regret. We can see with new eyes. We can actually experience new life in Christ that does more than give us a brief but doubting smile. It is the key to rising above every situation no matter how small or large.
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