Seeing Past Regrets in a New Light
Does a follower of Christ have legitimate, biblical reasons to have regrets in life?
I encourage you to pause before you answer that. Focus on the word “regrets.” Yes, like all of us, you have made a few decisions in life you later wished you had not. Perhaps you made some ill-advised investment or debt choices. Maybe you were more sexually intimate with a boyfriend or girlfriend than you should have been. It could be that you now wish you had not allowed a bigger paycheck to persuade you from leaving a job you loved and where you had a wonderful relationship with your boss. These are examples of decisions we are all guilty of making in life that our older and wiser selves later wish we had not. But again I ask, should the Christ-follower live with regret over these unwise choices? Or would we be wise to not dwell on that which we can no longer change and instead choose to view them in a new light? Oftentimes, when we see something from our past in a new light, we begin to reevaluate what it was that we first saw—or even what we didn’t see at first.
Allow me to use a silly example to show what I mean by this.
Imagine that you have a billionaire friend who gave you a deal of a lifetime on a new home. The price could not be passed over, you rationalized. So you applied for the home loan, signed the papers, and moved to your new home! However, the home was at the North Pole, and was more of a structure designed for -50 degree temperatures. Ironically, the lighting in the home was nonexistent, other than finding two hundred candles. As it turns out, your friend never lived there during the dark season so had no reason to install lights. But for the first six months you lived there, you used one candle a day to maneuver your way around but still had to walk about as though you were blind. You bumped into things, tripped, and hit your head. Your six months there were horrible. You regretted purchasing the place even though you got a good deal from your friend. You kicked yourself for making such a decision.
However, here is where new light was shown on the situation. After returning to the States briefly, you came back to your new home for three months during the summer that provided you twenty-four hours of daylight. It was then that you saw things you had never seen before! In the sale, your billionaire friend included a painting on the wall worth more than you paid for the house, but you had never seen it in the dark. And the chandelier you kept hitting your head on was made of 14-carat gold with diamonds, adding even more significant value to the home.
As silly as this illustration is, the application is not. A new angle on past regrets can bring to light a reality that formerly we overlooked. Often there is a value in the worst of situations if we look for that situation to be a means of grace and a source of goodness. Though we still have bumps and bruises, we also possess something of worth moving forward.
A Means of Grace
The Bible teaches that where there is sin, grace abounds (Romans 5:20). While the repentant Christ-follower wishes they had not sinned in the first place, how can they regret having God’s abounding grace showered upon them? Having gone through a sense of regret and wishing we had done things differently, we now can receive not only God’s forgiveness for our sin but His grace that allows us to use this as a lesson for the future.
We have all heard it said “don’t make the same mistake twice.” Because of God’s abounding grace, we can learn from our past mistakes. We can avoid the same blunders. We need not repeat history. But will we receive this grace? Will we apply it? The past is a means of grace for the future.
As painful as the past is to us for not having pursued a positive course but instead taking a negative direction, that time is not wasted. Most successful people will say that they are successful because early in life they made mistakes and learned from them. Thomas Edison experimented with the light bulb countless times, and after each failure he interpreted that as a good thing since he knew now how not to do it next time. As he stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” God’s abounding grace allows us to learn from our sins and mistakes. But will we take advantage of this opportunity, or will we dwell on our past regrets and never move forward?
A Source of Goodness
As odd as this may sound at first, it is important that we not view all past regrets as 100 percent bad. As humans, when at a crossroad of feeling like we blew it, we can exaggerate the idea that nothing good has come from this. We can fixate on the glass half empty rather than half full, and overlook that we might have been the one who enjoyed the first half. Though that metaphor doesn’t apply perfectly, it does get at the idea that our past experiences have only partial regrets. Nothing is an absolute waste.
The person who took out an unwise loan to pay for an expensive out-of-state college is still grateful that he met his eventual wife at that college. The move across the country to a job that fizzled after only six months still resulted in your family getting involved with the church that was a big reason for your own spiritual revival. God turns lemons into lemonade every day. As we revisit the past it is not a bad idea to list all the good things that have come from what you now regret. Those good things are there: a source of wisdom to counsel others with, a source of empathy that helps you understand others in a similar plight, and a source of reasons not to make such a mistake again.
Regret Is Not Part of the New Covenant
In all of the New Testament, there is only one chapter where we will find the word “regret” used. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul is writing about a previous (unknown to us) letter he had written to the church in which he had delivered a strong rebuke to them. Ever since sending the letter with Titus to give to them, he had wondered: How would they respond? Would they get angry? Would they reject his teachings? Would they take it out on Titus?
Concerning all of this, Paul wrote:
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation. (vv. 8–10)
For a brief time, Paul regretted the sorrow he brought to the Corinthians whom he loved dearly, “though only for a little while.” Now he rejoiced, because their sorrow had led them to repentance, which is why he wrote what he did. And not only does Paul no longer regret what he wrote, the Corinthians should not dwell on regrets either. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation.”
No wonder the word “regret” cannot be found in the New Testament outside of this chapter. Regret is not for the Christ-follower living under God’s grace and forgiveness. They have been offered a repentance “without regret”!
Questions to Consider
- What are some regrets you have had in your life? Do you still regret them? Why or why not?
- Romans 5:20 says, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” How have you seen this apply in your life, with your past sins and/or regrets?
- Consider one of the “regrets” that came to mind when answering question 1. What good came out of it? Do you regret having this good in your life now? Why or why not?
- What do you think Paul meant by “a repentance without regret”? How is this possible?