I was having a conversation about relationships when suddenly, Brenda blurted out, “I am such a terrible friend!” This outburst confused me because, in my mind, this woman epitomized what a caring and supportive friend should be; she listened well and always seemed to take an interest in others. I couldn’t imagine her doing anything that would qualify her for the “Terrible Friend” award. Not to be deterred, Brenda went on to confess that she forgot to call one of her best friends on the day her son was due to have surgery.
“I should have been there for my friend during that very stressful time. I can’t believe I was so thoughtless.”
“Oh gosh,” I replied. “Were you able to talk to your friend today to sort it out?”
Brenda’s nervous giggle almost gave away what she said next. “Oh, this happened five years ago. Still—I feel so bad.”
As I pondered this conversation and considered today’s topic, it confirmed what I already suspected about regret: if it’s not processed and released, it has the potential to define us and our lives in a way that God never intended.
This may be a good time to pause and let all your regrets bubble to the surface. If you are like me, there will be many, and the big ones will be obvious. It’s difficult to forget the times you have said or done things to cause harm to others—especially the people you love. (I immediately think of the time I threw a shoe at Jeff’s head in anger, but truth be told, I’ve said things that have caused even greater harm😬.) There may also be the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” opportunities that, had you acted differently, may have altered the trajectory of your life. Once those bigger regrets come to the surface, you may also recall seemingly smaller ones, like missed opportunities to bless or encourage someone who needed it. Unless you take the time to allow those regrets to surface, they linger deep in your consciousness, potentially driving your behavior like a faulty navigation device.
Rather than potentially wandering (further?) off course in 2024, I encourage you to process your regrets so they no longer have the power to weigh you down or impact the direction of your life. If you’d like to do this, begin by writing down any regrets that popped up for you as you read the last paragraph. (In full transparency, I am still processing the regret I sadly carry about the mistakes I made raising my children.)
The next step is to ask God for forgiveness for the things you knowingly or unknowingly did wrong with regard to this issue. Keep in mind there is a difference between being sorry for what you have done and actually asking God for forgiveness. When you ask for and receive God’s forgiveness, you are truly washed clean (see Psalm 103:12). Let me pause here and emphasize the importance of taking the time to receive God’s forgiveness. I have worked with many people over the years who say sorry but don’t allow themselves to receive the gift of forgiveness. Because of that, they continue to carry regret for their mistakes and live in guilt and shame, never being freed from that burden. Don’t miss out on the chance to sit with open hands and allow the forgiveness of Jesus to be poured into your hands and heart. Sit long enough to know that you know you truly have been forgiven.
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51: 17)
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)
After you have asked for and received God’s forgiveness, consider whether you need to apologize to anyone for mistakes you have made or the harm you have caused. Recognize that this is not always possible; the person you hurt could have passed away or not be willing to have a conversation with you. If this is the case, it’s important to know that this should not keep you from dealing with your regret. When King David murdered the husband of his lover, he obviously was not able to undo the horror of his actions. However, David knew that he could deal with his guilt by turning to God: “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.” (Psalm 51: 14).
If you are able to apologize for the harm you have caused (even if it is just to yourself), take the time to do that. If the person you hurt refuses to forgive you, this does not mean you must continue to live in a state of regret. Remember that unforgiveness hurts the person who holds on to it, not you.
After you have completed the previous steps, it’s now time to break up with regret. This is a two-part process: First, make a decision that you will no longer carry regret. If you don’t draw a line in the sand, regret has a way of popping up again and again—not unlike a bad rash. Second, make the decision to give your regret to God. This is a different step than saying sorry. Believe it or not, it’s possible to say sorry, receive forgiveness, and still live in regret. Ask me how I know…🙋🏻♀️
I have discovered that regret is tied to emotions. Until we allow all the emotions that accompany regret to surface and be processed, we risk letting regret plague us over and over again—even fifty years after the original incident.
So, what does that process look like in real life? Here is my experience:
- In your quiet time with God, think about the situation/experience that you regret. Allow your emotions about this situation to come to the surface. For example, when I think about the mistakes I made that caused harm to my children, I feel sadness, worry (fear), guilt, shame, and despair. (I also feel despair that I feel despair because I should know better 🙄, but hey, I’m just telling it like it is! )
- Allow yourself to feel the feeling(s). This may cause you to experience tears or groaning; you may want to yell or stomp your feet. Try not to squelch what comes up in you. It’s important to allow your body and emotions to take part in the break-up with regret.
- Ask God to come and receive each emotion. Imagine God coming to take each emotion (like sadness, for example) off of you. Tell God that you don’t want to hold onto it anymore.
- After you have given Him each emotion, ask God what he has for you in return. Write down what you see, sense, or hear.
- If regret tries to pop up in the future, remind yourself that it doesn’t belong to you anymore and slam the door shut. It’s not welcome in your life anymore.
- Live your life free from regret!
As we get ready to step into this new year, I would like to thank you, dear reader, for being on this journey with me. I have loved hearing from you when you’ve commented or reached out via email. Thank you to each of you who has done so. May God bless you in 2024!
If you have benefited from my writings, I’d like to ask two things of you. First, will you please share this blog with 2-3 other people who you think would benefit from it? That would be such a blessing to me! I have set a goal of reaching an additional 900 subscribers in 2024, and I’m pretty sure I will need your help to do that.
Secondly, please consider supporting my writing by signing up for a paid subscription. Substack has various suggested amounts. Doing so is optional, and there is no pressure on you to do so. Thank you to all of you who have already signed up for this option.
Lastly, If you might be interested in joining a small group of people who are committed to meeting weekly for spiritual encouragement and support, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am accepting applications for “Better Together” groups starting early in 2024. Spots are limited, so please email me this week to learn more!
I pray that each of you will experience increased health and joy in 2024. Happy New Year!