We all make mistakes dear, so just put it behind you. We should regret our mistakes, and learn from them, but not carry them into the future
~ Mrs. Allen speaking to Anne in ‘Anne of Avonlea’~
Does regret have a place in the vocabulary of Christians? My instinct is to say no.
But I think that the real answer is more like that of Mrs. Allen. It is right to show sorrow and acknowledge things that didn’t go well for a time, and then move on. However, it is not right to cling to regret and sit in it forever.
When we hold tightly to regret, it often has a negative effect on our thought life, our hearts, and sometimes even our interactions with others. For me, and I think for many people, regret is closely tied with disappointment. Feelings of regret come flowing when I think of conversations that when wrong – ‘I wish I hadn’t said that’; when something goes wrong at work – ‘I should have prevented that….’; or even something as trivial as taking the wrong road on a long journey!
It some ways, sitting in regret is a rejection of God’s sovereignty. Do you believe that God is sovereign, good and desires to work out all things for His glory and your good?
I do. I believe in a sovereign God who has a purpose for me in all things, even the mistakes that I make (Romans 8:28).
God knows my frame (Psalm 103:14) – I am human, and I will make mistakes. While God is sovereign and Lord over all, I have freedom to make choices and mistakes. And when I do, He treats me with grace, mercy and steadfast love:
“The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.”
I think that a healthy approach to regret is to hold the things we regret in the light of God’s sovereignty and purpose in all things. In his book, ‘Trusting God’, Jerry Bridges reminds of us of this perspective: “Is not this the right way to look at history, seeing God’s hand in all events”. God has a plan and purpose for me, and the power to carry out that plan and purpose regardless of my actions and life circumstances.
Perhaps God has something for me in those times that I so want to regret…
Perhaps God wants me to lean into Him in those times that I feel disappointed in myself, and regret the things I’ve said…
Perhaps God allowed something to go wrong at work so that next time I’ll recognise the pitfall and know how to prevent it…
Perhaps God knows that I will enjoy the scenery in the unexpected detour….
Is there a place for regret in the vocabulary of Christians? I believe that there is an appropriate place for regret – It’s appropriate to feel regret and sorrow over our sin; It’s appropriate to feel regret over harm we have done to others.
God even felt regret over creating people when He saw the wickedness and corruption that we are capable of: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth and it grieved Him to His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).
But though God felt regret over creating people who were capable of wickedness and corruption, He did not end the story there. In His sovereignty, grace, mercy and steadfast love for His creation and people, God sent His Son Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17).