It has been said that many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future. It was the thought of regret that led John Greenleaf Whittier to write, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are, “It might have been.” It seems all of us have at least some regrets.
We can regret missed opportunities. We may say, “If only,” or “I wish I would have done this” or “I wish I would not have done that.” We may have regrets in our relationships. We may sometimes regret our words and actions with our spouse or as a parent. Many have regrets physically. For example, we may regret not taking better care of our body. And regret can even impact us spiritually. We may regret not putting more of God’s word in our hearts when we were younger, or not being more generous in our giving. We may regret not saying more about our Savior to someone like a family member or a friend. Sometimes we even regret the words and actions of others, don’t we?
Despite those who claim they have no regret about anything in their lives, it simply does not ring true with most of us. Perhaps it is better to think of regret as something, like cholesterol, that can be both unhealthy or healthy. Certainly Scripture gives warrant for such an approach. An unhealthy view of regret seeks to avoid at all cost the pain of personal consequences. Think of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. Even in torment, he refuses to come to grips with his self-absorption and neglect. Unhealthy regret overwhelms one with guilt and despair. See the example of Judas in Matthew 27:3-5. An unhealthy view of regret will lead one to justify oneself out of pride and ego. Consider Pilate’s attempt to “wash his hands” of guilt regarding Jesus. Pride often seeks to suppress regret!
On the other hand, healthy regret will motivate us to action (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10). To whatever degree we can, we desire to “fix” things. By this it is meant that there is the sincere desire to right the wrong as much as is humanly possible and to restore the relationship (Consider Luke 19:8). Further, a healthy view of regret will not allow it to consume or disable us. Peter stands in contrast to Judas on this point. Both were guilty of terrible sins concerning Jesus but only one did not allow regret and guilt to completely overwhelm him. Healthy regret can become a springboard for greater good. The apostle Paul comes to mind (cf. Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Surely the memory of how he had treated Christians when he persecuted the church both humbled and motivated him later as a servant of God. Many today have a similar response when they contemplate their past and consider God’s gracious provision in Jesus.
Here are 5 strategies for avoiding unhealthy regret and for cultivating a more biblically healthy type. (1). Live Clean With God Daily. Don’t allow unhealthy things to hurt your relationship with God. You’ll just regret it! Make the plea of Psalm 139:23-24 part of your daily walk with God. (2). Remember Forgiveness Is Available. God is faithful and is willing to forgive as we turn to Him (1 John 1:7-10). (3). Aim For Higher Love. The exceptional nature of how Christians are to love is spoken of in John 13:34-35 as being, “as I have loved you” (See also John 15:9-17). Have you ever regretted failing to show the love of Jesus? (4). Make Things Right With Those You’ve Wronged. God’s word speaks clearly on this in places like Matthew 5:23-24 and Romans 12:18. (5). Seek To Live Clean With Those Who’ve Wronged You. Do not allow yourself to become bitter or to seek revenge. It only poisons your heart. See 1 Peter 3:8-12 in this regard.
We may not live our lives without any regret; however, we can live without unhealthy regret.