“Terrible” was her response to the question, “How was your afternoon?”
“Oh, no, what happened?” I asked my friend, expecting to learn of an argument with her teenager or a run in with a crazy neighbor. But it wasn't either of these things. It wasn't even an actual thing that had happened. (Not in the present moment, at least.) She looked straight at me and sighed, “I just have so many regrets.”
The Hebrew word for regret actually means “to sigh”. Interesting, right?
Regret is defined as sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or that we have done. And we all have regrets. Some regrets are foolish choices, like the time in the seventh grade when I chose to cover my entire head in Sun-In, while laying out at the beach for eight hours straight drenched in baby oil. Other regrets are sin choices, and these can cause us the most harm as they tend to leave scars and consequences that last longer than a bad bleach job and third-degree burn.
I have learned a lot about regret in the past few years, and I have come away confident in this: if it doesn't propel me into a deeper faith and trust in the Lord, it is a completely useless emotion, that ironically, I will only regret at the hour of death; which, if you ask me, is THE most important hour of our lives. And that? That to me is the ultimate regret! Focusing on the sorrow my poor actions have brought me changes nothing. It only holds me face down in disappointment, reminding me of all the “what-ifs” and “if onlys”. It encourages me to look around at everyone else who apparently has what was supposed to be mine IF ONLY I had made better choices. Ultimately, and most tragically, it cripples me in my pursuit of glorifying God.
And we want that, don't we? We want lives that are lived for Jesus, that point to Jesus, that glorify Jesus. But if we are drowning in our regrets, is this even possible? How do we start seeing our wounds as the pathway to the heart of Christ, and not the obstacle? Exactly how do we accept our mistakes, and make peace with our past?
We need to get over ourselves. And we do this by repentance.
As I said earlier, regret focuses on the action that has brought us sorrow, but repentance focuses on the One we have offended. Saint Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 have helped open my eyes to just how selfish my own regret can be:
I rejoice now, not because you were saddened, but because you were saddened into repentance; for you were saddened in a godly way, so that you did not suffer loss in anything because of us. For godly sorrow produces a salutary repentance without regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.
There are a few ways I pray to not die. One, I don't want to be eaten by a shark. Ever. Two, I am terrified of my car driving off of a bridge and drowning. OR worse, not drowning, but once I escape through the car window, I get eaten by a shark. And three, “death by worldly sorrow”. So, to avoid the first two, I will stay out of the ocean and off of bridges. And to ensure I avoid number three, here are three things I am putting into practice:
1. Shut Satan Down.
Sisters, he is not called the Accuser for nothing. His tricks and schemes go back to the Garden of Eden. He tempts you, lying about the consequences, then accuses you when you consent. He delights in your shame, and wants you to believe the lie that you are defined by what you do. Own your identity. You are defined by God. Weekly Confession has been my saving grace. Take your regrets to the Sacrament of reconciliation, and leave them in the confessional. Then, on your way home, blare “I am a child of God” with your windows wide open so everyone knows exactly who you are.
2. Stop dwelling on the past.
Every time you go down that path, you take a step further away from trusting the Lord with your life and accepting the outcome. Your past is a huge and necessary piece of your story. Remember, He wastes nothing. When I focus more on what I should have done, rather than what God is calling me to do, I remember Saint Paul's words in Philippians 3:13-14: Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.
3. Praise God.
Thank Him for allowing you to make mistakes because you are confident in His ability to pull the good out of every circumstance. If you do not believe that your situation could ever be used for good, now would be a good time to open up your Bible to Romans 8:28 and declare this over your life: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
When Judas felt the sharp pains of regret, he fell into self-destruction. This is not what God wants for us! Like Saints Peter and Paul, the purpose of our regret is that it leads us towards repentance. There is no need for you to undo your past. You have a God who lives to redeem it. Claim that truth and keep running towards the prize.
In Him who makes all things new,