Frank Sinatra’s mega-hit song, My Way, has a line about regret. “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.” We should all be so fortunate! And by the way, doing it my way versus God’s way, not the path I choose. Sorry, Frank!

Now, about regrets, we do have a few, perhaps more than a few. According to the author of “The Power of Regret“, Daniel Pink, only 1 % of those he surveyed claimed to have no regrets. Yes, that mean 99% of us have regrets! Pink goes on to say that regrets fail in 4 areas:

  1. Connection-failure regrets: These regrets involve people you know or wanted to know.
  2. Boldness regrets: Regrets involved taking chances and being bold.
  3. Foundation regrets: Those regrets involved in preparing you for life or taking the time to get to know someone better.
  4. Moral regrets: Those regrets against your values in which you needed to do the right thing.

While these categories are helpful to think about, regret and remorse are close cousins. Both involve guilt, but remorse is a deeper sense of sorrow you have over something you have done. Regret involves something you wished you had done. For example, “Why didn’t I take a chance on a real estate property? Look how much it has increased in value”(Boldness regret). While regret and remorse involve past actions or wrongs, remorse has more to do with harming others and requires apology, repentance and steps to correct the problem.

But getting back to regret, it doesn’t serve a purpose apart from a moment of self-reflection you could learn from as you think about it. Other than that reflection is a negative emotion that traps you. Evaluate what you could have done differently, then move on. If you don’t, regret can take you down a road of shame, guilt and even depression. And you certainly don’t want to live with regrets, feeling you are somehow unredeemable. With God, this simply is not true.

We all make mistakes and have past failures. Having regret can be a sign of a tender heart, a willingness to own mistakes and learn. But we don’t want to ruminate on regrets or keep them front and center. God takes our regrets and uses them. Regrets can lead to salvation, can keep us humble knowing we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Regrets can bring thankfulness for a God who forgives our past mistakes, uses everything to bring glory to his name and even brings comfort to others through our own experiences.

Freedom comes when you turn all your regrets over to God and trust him for your present and future. Your past is not prologue to your future. Paul talks about this grace in I Corinthians 15:10. Remember, Saul who later became Paul, was a terrorist who tortured and killed Christians. Do you think he would naturally have regrets? Of course, but Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 

And then we are reminded in Isaiah 43:18-19, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” As John Piper reminds us, God died for a million regrets!

Grace doesn’t cheapen our bad choices, sins, failures but it does release us from the bondage of those past things. If you struggle with letting go of regret, remember you can approach the throne of grace, receive mercy and grace, knowing your past is forgiven. Move forward and onward to the new things God is doing in your life.

Letting go of regret

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