Regrets have a way of freezing us up inside. Sometimes the accumulated weight of them can be an icepick striking with ceaseless precision. Guilt, real or imagined, can keep us wide-awake long past bedtime. We replay matters in our minds while watching those incredibly entertaining infomercials on at all hours of the night. Or we exacerbate carpal tunnel issues surfing the Internet until bleary-eyed and brain-fried. Before finally surrendering to sleep, we vow to do better. To be human means to have regrets. We know what we ought to do in any given situation, but we do not always apply our knowledge. Ease is the common choice. Our capacity to cut corners and take the path of least resistance has no limits. For example, everyone knows that genuine benefits are realized in a healthy diet, yet we routinely eat greasy junk food with zero nutritional value. That is a rather minimal shortfall, though given my personal battle of the bulge and the statistics on obesity, it certainly has significant consequences.
The regrets that tend to haunt us the most are those in the arena of relationships. Words spoken in haste that were better left unsaid; mistakes made but never fixed; opportunities for friendships missed; self-serving ambition that had no trouble using others in pursuit of bigger and better career opportunities; a broken promise; a misunderstood off-hand comment; a flash of unnecessary anger. There is endless potential for conscientious people to be awash in relational chaos.
How Do We Handle Regrets
Living in or near De Nile is often our response of choice. That option is not recommended, but nevertheless, it’s quite popular to forget or deny regrets. We find it easier to pretend that nothing is wrong rather than actually come to terms with reality. The problem with that strategy is that sooner or later the stifled emotions leak out like toxic fumes, slowly poisoning our interpersonal relationships. In time our behavior can become pathological as we subconsciously endeavor to maintain plausible deniability. A lifetime of prolonging the façade has tragic results. A husband or wife wakes up one morning and decides, apparently out of the blue, to walk away and start a new life. The repercussions of those kinds of choices can echo for generations. Lives are wrecked or put into turmoil because regrets were allowed to fester for years.
Since regrets are part and parcel of life, to be fully functional human beings we must learn how to deal with them. Otherwise they will consume us. So how can we navigate the peaks and valleys of relationships without losing our way? Where can we find the resources to persevere and grow through disappointments?
Grace Received Must Be Grace Dispensed
First and foremost we must make sure that our relationship with God is intact. That is accomplished by accepting his offer of grace and pardon in Jesus Christ. Our redemption and everlasting life were bought and paid for by Christ’s death and resurrection. As recipients of God’s reconciling love, we are expected to tend the garden of that primary relationship.
The cross of Calvary is about restoration of our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with others. Our anguish over broken relationships or hurtful feelings find solace within the context of being connected to our eternal Father. Balance is achieved and peace is cultivated when we keep our perspective focused on his unchanging attributes. God is always prepared to grant forgiveness when we confess our sins and failures; divine absolution is a healing balm for guilt.
Secondly, we must understand that the pattern by which God deals with us is the example we are to follow with others. The grace and forgiveness we freely receive from God must be liberally dispensed in our horizontal relationships—we must strive to do the best we can to live out grace and forgiveness in every circumstance.
When we say the wrong thing or screw up miserably, Scripture teaches that regret is the first step on a path to wholeness. If we take our faith-walk seriously, when we offend or injure someone we must be contrite and sincerely apologize.
However, when we ask forgiveness, we are not responsible for the other person’s response; we are only responsible to do the right thing and attempt to repair the breach. We must try to make amends, then leave the results in God’s hands; we must exercise faith in the One who is sovereign over all of life and history.
A Transformational Prescription
The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a transformational prayer that is a prescription for rising above regrets:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen.”