All of us can point to significant mistakes of morality or judgment that led to lasting consequences:
- A divorce
- A poor investment
- An act of immorality
- A missed opportunity
Throughout this series, we have learned that while life has no rewind button that allows us a do-over, we can use regrets about past mistakes to guide us from future mistakes in eight important areas of life, including our work, our finances, our family, and our relationships—including our relationship with God.
Nevertheless, at some point, we have to deal with those regrets from the past. We cannot suddenly develop a case of amnesia about the past. And we should not want to, even if we could. Regrets can actually be profitable if we deal with them in the right way. The key is to make regrets over the past your slave instead of your master. How?
As we wrap up our discussion on regrets, allow me to share with you four truths that will assist you in conquering regrets . . . about regrets.
1. Regrets Are Inevitable (Psalm 103:14)
Accept the fact that throughout your life, you are going to make some colossal mistakes that will handicap your marriage, your finances, your children, your career, your health, your friendships, and your relationship with God. Why are such mistakes and their accompanying regrets inevitable? Because you are one giant clod. To be more precise, you and I are one giant lump of clay.
One thing I love about the Bible is that it helps us view ourselves as we really are. If you want to understand who you are, go back to the book of Genesis and discover how you were formed, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
The word formed refers to a lump of wet clay that a potter places on the spinning wheel and molds into his desired creation. In one sense, you are nothing but a collection of dust and chemicals: 58 pounds of oxygen, 50 quarts of water, three pounds of calcium, and two ounces of salt, with a little phosphorus and fat mixed together.
Of course, the passage says that God breathed His life-giving Spirit into you. Yet, whatever spiritual power you possess is still encased in nothing more than a lump of dirt.
You may say, “Well, that doesn’t do much for my self-image.” But understanding your humble origins in creation might keep you from being too surprised about mistakes you made. God is not surprised by your mistakes. The fact that we inhabit a body that is weak and infected with sin translates into poor choices, frequent mistakes, and inevitable regrets.
2. Regrets Are Forgivable (Psalm 103:10-12)
We are completely responsible for the mistakes we make. God is under no obligation to forgive us for our mistakes. We deserve to suffer the eternal consequences of our mistakes.
Yet, the fact that we are just a collection of clay that has been immersed in sin causes God to pity us and provide us with a way of forgiveness. In the very same passage that talks about our weakness, the psalmist also describes God’s kindness:
I used to teach when God forgives, He forgets. I would quote Jeremiah 31:34. Even though my audience really wanted to believe that, I could sense that only a few of them actually did. When we become Christians, does God suddenly develop a case of holy amnesia or sanctified Alzheimer’s that renders Him incapable of remembering what His children have done? Somehow, such an idea is not consistent with an omniscient God.
No, God does not forget the way we forget. But as the psalmist says, He does not deal with us according to our sins. Paul wrote, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (Romans 4:8). God doesn’t “forget” our mistakes, but He chooses not to hold those mistakes against us.
In fact, He separates us from our sins so that when He looks at us, He does not see our sins at all. And how much distance has He placed between us and our sins? Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Remember why David used the directions east and west instead of north and south? There are poles to the north and south. If you traveled north, arrived at the North Pole, and kept traveling, you would immediately start traveling south. But there are no poles east and west. You can start going west from Dallas and go to El Paso, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Japan, and China, and you will continue in that direction forever, and the west will never become east.
God does not just remove our sins as far as the north is from the south but as far as the east is from the west—which is infinity. Isn’t that a great truth? Our sins that weigh us down with regret are forgivable.
3. Regrets Can Be Instructional (Proverbs 15:31-32)
One of the greatest values of regrets about the past is that they can provide us with direction for the future. The only way I know to illustrate principle is from a personal experience.
When our girls were little, I had to wrestle with a new ministry opportunity. One night, I noticed that the light in my oldest daughter’s closet was on, so I went in to turn it off. At the back of the closet, I saw a collage Amy had put together representing each year of Julia’s nine years of life. As I studied those pictures, I had the same thought that every parent has: “Where did the time go?”
I looked at one picture labeled “1989” and thought about that year. I could only remember one or two things I did with Julia in 1989. I know there were more, but I could not remember them. What happened to those 365 days? What about 1991? Or 1994? I was suddenly filled with regret over the times I had allowed my responsibilities, real or imagined, to rob me of time with my children. Although I could never retrieve those years again, I could allow the pain of my regrets to guide my future decisions.
If I said yes to this ministry opportunity, would it mean more or less time with my children? Without question, it would mean less time. I could easily picture myself in an empty bedroom one day asking, “Whatever happened to 1999 or 2002 or 2006?” I then began to evaluate my decision in terms of the other resolves we discussed in this series. How would this decision impact my relationship with my wife— would it increase or decrease the normal strain on our relationship? What about my relationship with God? What effect would a yes or no answer have on my finances, career, or relationships?
I actually took out a sheet of paper and listed the following life areas. Using a plus sign for positive results, a minus sign for negative results, and a Zero for no change, I tried to evaluate the probability of future regrets over a yes decision. As I tallied up the score, I realized that in 10 years, I would probably look back with regret over a “yes” response to this opportunity. And so I answered “no.” The pain of regret over my past mistakes provided direction for my future. And it can be for you, as well.
4. Regrets Are Providential (Exodus 2)
In my book, The Road Most Traveled, I use this definition for contentment: “Being at peace with the unchangeable circumstances, choices, and mistakes of your past.”
How can we ever be at peace with the irreversible mistakes of our past? Ultimately, such peace can only come through a firm belief in the sovereignty of God. Let us leave the debate between predestination and free will to the theologians. Practically, believing in God’s sovereignty means being convinced that God is so powerful that He can take your worst mistakes and use them for your good and for His eternal purpose.
My favorite illustration of that truth is the story of Moses. Remember his story? In an act of unbridled anger, he killed an Egyptian soldier and spent the next 40 years of his life suffering—and regretting—the consequences of his mistake. Can you imagine the number of times he must have thought, “If only I had not allowed my temper to get the best of me, I would be in Pharaoh’s palace instead of this forsaken desert?” But you know the rest of that story.
God used Moses’ 40 years in the wilderness to prepare him for an even greater work in the future. When Moses turned 80, God led him back to Egypt to become the great deliverer of Israel. Did God “will” that Moses kill that Egyptian? Of course not. But Moses served a God who was powerful enough to cause all things—even murder—to work together for good.
Visualize the one or two greatest regrets of your life. Instead of denying or suppressing them, see them for what they represent: failures that cannot be erased but can be forgiven. And most importantly, failures that do not have to be repeated. Instead of being paralyzed by regrets from the past, decide right now to use those regrets to prepare you for the future.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures