You know that feeling. The one where that you feel in the deep part of your stomach and it seems to go all the way through your bloodstream. Sometimes it comes right after you say something or do something. Sometimes it is a slow burn that is felt days, months, or years later! Regret. Everyone has regrets, but no one has to live in them. Here’s what we mean.
Regrets can paralyze us, they might as well be like walls that come around us confining us to a sort of psychological jail cell.
In that regard, many people (sadly) end up living IN regret like a prisoner in a cell. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, it ought not to be!
And here is where we lean into the apostle Paul, who shows us a way out of regret. Paul is telling the Corinthian church that his letter might have been very direct, but it was for their benefit. Here is what he said.
9 Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10, NLT)
Wait… the way to move past regret is through… sorrow?
Newsflash: Sorrow and regret aren’t synonyms!
Furthermore, having sorrow is not a symptom and precursor of regret. There is a kind of sorrow that is helpful and a kind of sorrow that is not. We need to recognize this, lest we fall into the trap of becoming numb or callous to sorrow altogether.
There are three options for how this plays out…
No sorrow or regret. Diagnosed by…
- Not feeling sorry for what I’ve done; I’m just sorry I got caught.
- I agree my behavior was wrong, but I justify it with excuses.
- I’m sad about the consequences, but not about my choices.
- I give lip service to apologies, but don’t ever make an effort to change my behavior.
Worldly sorrow. Diagnosed by…
- Keeps me constantly looking back, afraid to look forward.
- It sends me spiraling into self-condemnation without any hope.
- Leaves me in a cyclical loop full of regret, despair, and fear.
But now the one worth talking about…
Godly sorrow moves me from guilt and shame toward real-life change.
Because God doesn’t want us to feel bad just to feel bad. Any conviction that he gives is meant to lead us to repentance–which implies a shift of direction. The Greek word for repentance in 2 Corinthians 7:9 and 10 (μετάνοια, metanoia) literally means “a change of mind,” but it is far richer than that. (We wrote about repentance being like a GPS in this blog HERE.)
Theologically speaking, repentance was understood as a mental shift where the way someone thinks about something takes a drastic turn. And this does not just remain a cognitive disposition. To think differently–in a thorough way that affects a worldview–means that the habits and the heart-follow coincide. After all, we cannot change our own hearts, but we can change our minds and then God has permission to change our hearts. Far from being an anecdote to the discussion, repentance, properly understood, provides the way out of regret!
Regret is that activity of the mind that causes us to say, “Why did I do that?” There is some limited benefit to this sort of introspection, but it cannot be where we live. Left unchecked, it goes down a dark path of shame and leaves you feeling like there is no way out.
True repentance, on the other hand, brings in another aspect of our minds–our will. To truly repent one must have a change of will, forfeiting the view that our agency makes us autonomous, and seeing that we are willingly joining ourselves to God as our sovereign Lord.
Repentance reconnects us with God and restores our relationships.
It puts us back on the right trajectory, right on “the path of life.”
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11, ESV).
If “worldly sorrow” results in “spiritual death,” then repentance “results in salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10, again).
Over the past few weeks during our Sunday gatherings, we have leaned into a few parts of Moses’ life. The more familiar you are with his life, the more you realize that he was far from perfect and led a people (the Israelites) who seemed to get it wrong more often than getting it right. Sometimes the people in Scripture become the example of what not to do (and sometimes we are that way too!). But there are lessons to be learned here. For Moses, regret–whether personal or while standing in solidarity with his people–never had the final word. This is worth repeating: We don’t have to live in regret because regret does not get the final word–God’s redemption does.
If we find ourselves imprisoned by regret we must know that our feet are not bound to any shackles–that the cell door is not locked–that we are not doomed to live there forever! Repentance is beckoning us to walk out and leave regret behind!
All of this said, there are 3 key realities we need to get in our heads and down into our hearts.
My regrets are not too big for God’s grace.
That’s why we need to keep learning about the depths of grace, through biblical teaching and even through song we are proclaiming what is true about God’s grace despite our greatest mistakes.
I am not what I have done; I am who God says I am.
Learning who God is (theology) and who he says we are (identity) are the most important things for all of life! And by doing so, they will combat the shame that tends to come from places of regret.
I cannot change my past, but Jesus can change my future.
Where you were is not as important as where you are going. Your past is not stronger than Jesus. He is excited to embrace you. But you have to leave regret at the door.
After all, the greatest tragedy is if we allow our regrets to keep us from God. The question is: Will you bring God your regrets so that he can restore you?