Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, once noted that regret “causes us to become cannibals of our own hearts.” Unresolved regret is a leech that steals from our present in order to feed the pain of our past.
Some regrets stem from the things we’ve done, like ending a relationship, quitting a job, dropping out of college, or making an impulsive decision. Other regrets flow from the things we’ve neglected to do, like ignoring our symptoms, turning a blind eye to the need of another, or discounting the value of family relationships or friendships. Regret becomes embedded in our lives when we avoid it, over-perform in an attempt to silence it, medicate it, or surrender to it.
Many of us find old regrets surface during times of transition in our lives: at quarterlife, midlife, and end of life. But God can make all things new–even the decisions we regret. This is rarely a once-and-done quick fix, however, but a journey toward greater spiritual maturity.
I’ve found a few healthy markers of this journey ahead includes:
1.Name and own regrets. I can’t prayerfully address my regrets if I avoid facing them, and acknowledging how they’ve shaped my life to this point.
2. Confess sin when sin has been a factor in the regrets. Not all regret is sin. For example, you may be haunted by a sense of regret for selecting one of two equally fine choices, particularly if the consequences of your decision weren’t all you’d hoped. However, the choice itself was not necessarily sinful. On the other hand, you may have made a choice that came from a place in your life where you willfully disconnected from God. The road forward from those regrets begins with returning in humility to him.
3. Reflect on the good God brought even when you made poor choices. In the face of the sorrow that can accompany regret, this good is not always immediately evident. Contemplating the gifts of the life I’ve lived in the wake of the decision(s) I now regret is a healthy step in discovering how God has worked in my life for your good and his glory despite the fallout from that regret.
4. Acknowledge the gifts of wisdom, courage and compassion God has given through this situation. What do I know now about myself, others and God that I could not have learned any other way? How can I offer myself and my experience in service to others?
In order to live fully in the present we have to make peace with our past. Dealing with regrets is one of the most important steps we can take.