Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Overcoming Regrets

Do you ever feel like your regrets are haunting you like ghosts from your past?

I used to allow regrets over things I’ve said or wished I had said and things I’ve done or wish I had done, to steal my joy, peace and hope. I became so aggravated with these condemning “ghosts” of regret that I finally decided to figure out how to defeat them. The following “battle-plan” (for conquering regrets) has helped me and I hope it might help others dealing with this problem too.

Defining this enemy
Even though I knew what the word regret meant, I began by looking up the definition, which, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is: “sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair: an expression of distressing emotion (as sorrow)” 

I also noticed that repent is one of the synonyms for the word regret. I suppose this makes sense in one way; it’s the same thing to feel regretful and repentant (over something we’ve said or done). But, from the Christian point of view, there’s a contradiction between the definition of regret and the synonym of repent. The definition says that regret is “beyond one’s control or power to repair,” but the Bible repeatedly tells us that repentance is the “power to repair” (regrets, guilt and shame). I just had this thought: If regretting and repenting were synonymous, repenting of something we regretted would be redundant. 

The Apostle Paul wrote; “…the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world (by Webster’s definition) produces death.” (spiritual, emotional and even physical death) (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Here’s an example of what Paul meant: Judas regretted betraying Jesus (Matthew 27:3), but he didn’t repent of his betrayal and his failure to repent “produced death.” Whereas Peter regretted denying Jesus (Matthew 26:75), but he repented and moved on.

Defeating the enemy

I know that Peter, Paul and all Christians regret mistakes and past wrongdoing, but if we truly believe that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), we’ll get to the place where our regrets no longer have the power to control our emotions; we’ll begin to put them into perspective by understanding how God is making good result from our failures.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I’ve come to the conclusion that these feelings of oppressive regret and condemnation are not from God. I think that many of us won’t release these feelings of regret because we wrongly believe that to feel regret is to be repentant. But the Bible tells us that the Christian life is a spiritually and emotionally “abundant life;” a life of joy, peace and hope. These uplifting things that sustain us through even the most difficult trials cannot possibly coexist with feelings of guilt, regret and despair.

I believe the first step to putting your regrets behind you, where they belong, is to quit allowing them to attack your mind as a force – divide and conquer them. When regrets come to your mind, begin to categorize them. For instance, if the regret is over something that’s in your power to resolve; like apologizing to someone or paying back money you’ve borrowed etc, take the actions needed to resolve that regret. This category might be what the Bible calls “the conviction of the Holy Spirit,” which prompts us to act according to God’s will – it works with our conscience. It’s vital to resolve this category in order to have a good (guilt-free) relationship with God – “…if our conscience is clear, we can come to God with bold confidence.” (1 John 3:21 NLT)

Another category, which was a big “ghost” for me, was regrets I harbored regarding things I said or wished I had said to loved-ones that have passed away. I am no longer haunted by this ghost; he faded away when I realized that I don’t want my memory to evoke feelings of guilt and regret (for my family and friends) when I’m gone, and I know those that I’ve lost didn’t want me carrying around that burden either.

There are many other categories of regret;  parenting and relationship mistakes, bad investment mistakes, times we’ve sinned against God and hurt others and so on, but none of these categories controls my emotions any longer, and I believe it’s God’s will for every Christian to overcome oppressive feelings of guilt and regret.

You may wonder, as I did, what the source of these feelings of regret and false-guilt is if it’s not from God, as the Bible says – “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

That means the source must be our carnal nature (“self-condemnation”) and/or an outside dark spiritual force. I believe it’s probably some of both. The Bible tells believers that our old nature is at war with our new nature: “…the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh…” (Galatians 5:17). The Bible also says that Satan is our “accuser” (Revelation 12:10) and that he attempts to negatively influence our mind, will and emotions through people and in other ways.

But regardless of what the source is, it’s clear that the last thing any negative source wants is for regretful thoughts to provoke thanks-giving to God, so this is the most powerful weapon against these things. Form a habit of thanking God for forgiving you (of the things you regret) every time a regret comes to mind. I promise you that the power these regrets have to cause sadness and feelings of shame and condemnation will begin to diminish and you will start to see your past in its proper context – God’s context.

The Apostle Paul is an excellent example of putting regrets in the proper context. He repeatedly referred back to his regrets of persecuting, imprisoning and even participating in the killing of Christians; he even said that he wasn’t even “fit to be called an apostle…” (1 Corinthians 15:9). But then he added the following words that I’ve adopted and hope every follower of Christ will apply to themselves – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

If we’re allowing our regrets to affect our joy, peace and hope, His grace is proving to be vain to us; we’re essentially telling Jesus that His suffering and death wasn’t enough to take away our former sins and mistakes. It’s a new year; it’s time to let your regrets go!

“…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“… one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C.S. Lewis

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100 thoughts on “Overcoming Regrets

  1. Pingback: Lessons from the Gym | Regrets, Purpose…Hope

  2. I have gratefully read this post more than once. It is especially meaningful to abuse survivors like myself. Regret and self-condemnation are frequent scars of abuse. We can feel that our childhood was stolen, yet mistakenly take on the guilt of the predator. Christ offers us a way to move beyond the scars.

    Blessings,

    A.

    • Thank you for your powerful input, Anna. I have always been mystified about the guilt and self-condemnation that victims of abuse feel. I just know that none of us can move past warranted or unwarranted guilt and regret until we feel forgiven. Jesus is the only outlet for that kind of healing.

  3. Wonderfully wise post on regret and repentence brings a great deal of relief. Thank you for sharing your great faith x

  4. Drgold on said:

    Very provocative piece on repentance vs regret, filled with much godly wisdom. Your comparison of Peter’s & Judas’ betrayals was excellent. Judas could have been forgiven, if he had godly sorrow 2Co7:10.

    Then in the bigger picture, billions who are, or will unnecessarily go to everlasting fire will have regrets, but sadly it would be too late to repent!

    Thanks for following my blog. I see that you made a post on ‘It is Finished’. In my next post God’s Eternal Purpose in Christ Jesus, I wrote on God’s eternal purpose vs His temporal purposes which are Finished already!

    Drgold http://drgoldsite.wordpress.com

  5. What a wonderful way to discover peace! There’s an expression I truly enjoy and I don’t know with 91 comments, if anyone has already said it but it goes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and then to discover . . . the prisoner is you.”

    I saw many of my patients holding on to regret and not forgive themselves, stuffing that pain deep inside. That takes a great deal of unnecessary energy. What a relief to discard it and put our faith in the one who knows us intimately and loves us anyway, faults and all. For I know Who holds my future and He will direct my paths. I’ve learned to trust in Genesis 50:20. Blessings,

  6. Reblogged this on The Edge of the Wilderness and commented:
    A favorite post from a favorite blog. The title says it all. And Jesus has paid it all.
    Thank you Lord, for mercy, grace, forgiveness!

  7. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as
    I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My website is in the very same area of
    interest as yours and my users would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you present here.
    Please let me know if this ok with you. Cheers!

  8. You are welcome!! And thank you!! Many blessings from the Lord!!

  9. Well said!! God bless you and your ministry!!

  10. so how is the repent \regret working for ya,I have no regrets for I’v repented and now love what has been gifted to me[for some sin] willful or not and for me cancer now the adventure of tuning intonot having to ask and give thanks for seeing the simple blessings linda

  11. So glad we can always turn to God and he is there to see us through it all. We fall down but as long as we keep getting up we are winners. God can clean up our regrets and we just need to learn from them.

  12. I have really been struggling with this lately. Thank you for a great teaching!

  13. This is where I live too often. Thank you for such a good discussion. It rings true to me and will be really beneficial, I think, as apply your suggestions! Diane

  14. I thought this was a very helpful, informative and interesting post. Thank you!

  15. No regrets for me. My life is preordained by God and it’s up to me to take it or leave it. For as long as I am in His grace, no regrets. God bless you and your family.

  16. Thank you for sharing this with me! I loved how practical this was in fleshing out ways to help overcome regrets. My friend has a saying he uses a lot which states, “become practically what you are positionally.” This was an awesome example of what we are positionally in Christ, and how to practically make that happen! Thank you so much! It was a blessing to read!

    • Thank you, Marissa. I like your friend’s quote. You know, it seems so simple, but putting this in to practice is a challenge for all of us – believing God’s word, what He says about who we are in Christ, over what we “feel” ourselves. I am convinced that this is how we overcome complacency, sin, a poor self-image, and regrets.

  17. This was a timely post for me to read. I was visited by the ‘ghost’ of regret this week. It was over something I had repented of and knew I was forgiven for. But, I began to mull over what I had done and who I have hurt. I was so bothered by it, that my husband recognized something was eating at me. I told him what was going through my head and he reminded me that I am forgiven. I replied, “If only we could forgive and forget as easily as God does.” So, thank you so much for your post! It has encouraged me and reminded me of God’s everlasting grace. :)

    • Your husband is a wise man! As I wrote in the post, I too have had regrets that I knew (from God’s word) I was forgiven for, but they still haunted me. I found that thanking God for forgiving me (when these regrets would trouble me) was by far the most effective weapon for combating false-guilt. I know it will work for you!

  18. anne2ken on said:

    Reblogged this on anne2ken's pillow and commented:
    The post contains such empowering thoughts. :D

  19. This is so true! I think sometimes believers so easily fall into the category of continued grief over particular things. In truth, its easy to fall into to. But we don’t want to be like Judas who regretted it and then death came. But rather Paul who truly repented and moved on. (As you said). Thank you for the great post and reminder to repentance and leave the regret behind us. For God has forgiven us, if we confess, and he does not condemn.

    • Yes, I think it’s natural for us to allow our regrets to haunt us, but doing so is basically legalism; not accepting Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. I have to remind myself that, in addition to being the sin offering, Jesus was also the guilt offering.

  20. This was so timely for me today, Bill.
    Thank you for your sensitivity and wisdom…

  21. Thanks for this post, Bill. This is something I’ve struggled with. I’m definitely going to try your advice. God bless!

  22. Pingback: Reblog: Overcoming Regrets « Unshakable Hope « your mess, His Message

  23. I have been living with and meditating on this post since you posted it. It really speaks to my condition at my stage of life. I do believe God has forgiven me. I think my own disappointment in myself for being so weak and so blind hangs me up. And that is pride raising its ugly head again. Your point about being actively and specifically grateful for forgiveness for each of our failures is the most helpful thing I’ve heard. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your comments, Eileen. I do think the potential for harboring regrets increases with age, but I don’t think this is only because we have more years behind us and have more things to regret etc. I think it also has to do with our increasing in wisdom, knowledge and understanding; we tend to view our past through the prism of here and now; it’s not really fair to ourselves – of course we wouldn’t have made those mistakes if we had the wisdom, knowledge and understanding we have now.

  24. This is a very encouraging post. I have a journey of struggling with regret. I think sometimes I struggle because I am afraid of going back and apologizing or trying to make things right. And often I struggle with things I know I simply can’t make right. Of course, no sin can actually be reconciled without Christ. This is a very encouraging post. I do feel like Satan had a dark habit of bringing up my sin to try to get me to experience regret and rob me of repentance, joy, peace, love. Thank you.

    • Thank you for your comments. I do think fear (of facing our past) does contribute to keeping us trapped in our regrets. I don’t believe we have to go back in time and right every wrong, even if it were possible to do so. Fortunately the people we’ve wronged have made mistakes in their past too and for that reason they’re usually more forgiving of us than we give them credit for. But if that mistake in our past is impacting our life now, like a severed relationship, we need to right that wrong so we can move ahead guilt-free.

  25. Reblogged this on gracestories and commented:
    Excellent message for me, and I know it will bless others, too.

  26. Pingback: Overcoming Regrets « gracestories

  27. You said, “The definition says that regret is “beyond one’s control or power to repair,” but the Bible repeatedly tells us that repentance is the “power to repair””

    I love this! It shows the distinct contrast between the worldly and the Godly. Also, sort of in the same vein as this, have you noticed how the wonderfully healing art of restitution (There is a better word for it but I can’t think of it right now.) has completely disappeared from our culture? (Except in court ordered situations) I know that when a person regrets causing pain to someone else, they should of course repent, but then also go the extra mile to try and make up for it, mainly I’m referring to situations in marriages dealing with trust. It is awfully hard to gain trust once it has been lost. Restitution makes it easier because it shows the offending persons acknowledgement of the gravity of the wrong committed.

    • Thank you for your interesting comments, Sam. It is amazing to me how the dictionary and Biblical definitions (of regret) differ.
      I think the word you were looking for is penitence or being penitent, which is demonstrating that you have genuinely repented of something. It’s what John the Baptist called “showing the fruits of repentance.” If forgiveness is first and the observation of the “good works” comes after, that’s proper; if a man claims he’s repented of beating his wife and she’s still coming to work with bruises and black eyes, we should obviously question the sincerity of his repentance. The problem is that many churches have placed the “fruits” (of repentance) in front of the confession of repentance, which is legalism; salvation by works. As Paul said, this makes Christ’s sacrifice useless.

      • Thank-you for your reply. I think it is very eye opening for us to realize that we make Christ’s sacrifice useless for ourselves in this way.

  28. Hi Bill. This is a beautiful post. I hope this finds you well, this evening! God’s Peace!

  29. – “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    For the very first time in over twenty years I think I can finally be free of the guilt I have had over my divorce. Even though I have almost been remarried for twenty years since then… I have never ever heard a sermon or a verse that has totally set me free.
    Thank you

  30. Very thoughtful and thought provoking! Oh the ‘pit of regret’ as has been mentioned, can be all consuming. It truly is a commitment and choice to turn those feelings around….or as you say ‘divide and conquer’. Wonderful post, thoughts and comments!

  31. Thank you for this excellent teaching and truth. I took notes. God bless you and your ministry.

  32. Reblogged this on Faith, Life and Compassion and commented:
    We don’t have to keep hold of our regrets just to prove we’re sorry. I’ve had that same thought. Thank you, Bill, for expressing something I could never quite put into words.

  33. Great post, and I loved the Scriptural focus. I used to live in a constant state of regret. One day I realized I was focusing all my attention on an option that doesn’t exist – wishing I hadn’t done or said what I did or said.

    When I looked at my real-life options, I found I was often choosing bad options – stew over what I did, sit there and wish I’d done something differently, etc, etc – all pointless and depressing options.

    You mentioned we should confess our sins and make restitution if possible if we’re regretful because of sin – I came to the conclusion that that’s all I could do – and all that God required me to to do when my regret was over my own sin – after all, I couldn’t go back and take back my actions (if only!).

    Thank God He loves us, forgives, us and gives us grace!

    For the regret occasions that aren’t over my own sin, I try to rest on the promise that God brings good out of all things.

    And I love your thankfulness idea – I always need to be reminded to be thankful! It’s hard to dwell on regret in the middle of a thanking God for all He has done for you session!

  34. Jennifer Stepanski on said:

    Love you Bill………thank you so much for your words.
    WOW. Praise God. Blessings 2 U. Jennifer

  35. bill, i LOVE the divide and conquer idea? what a wonderfully practical way to make it more doable to “set down” or “let go” of regrets. definitely going to apply that! –kris

  36. It’s hard to move forward if we are always looking back, thank you for sharing :)

  37. Thank you for this brilliant post Bill. I am going to send this to two elderly gentlemen in my life. One a christian, one a non-believer. We all have regrets, no matter our beliefs. I am also going to print it out and refer to it often whenever sorrow from the past over something I regret rears its ugly head. Thank you so much for following my blog also. God bless you.

    • Thank you. I think focusing on regrets is a big problem for the elderly; most of their life is behind them and I think all of us, but especially the elderly, tend to give our regrets more credit and power (for our perceived failures…) than they deserve. Timing, circumstances and other things that we had no control over, play a big part in our not being in the place we think we should be.

  38. Amen! Thank you so much for reminding me of the wonderful promises of Jesus in the Scriptures you shared. I appreciate how the Word of God is central in this hope-filled piece that you wrote. God bless you.

    • Thank you. My posts usually end up being longer than I intended, but probably 40 percent of the word count is scripture references I’ve copied. I feel they’re necessary and I’m glad that you seem to think so too.

  39. Pingback: Did I fail? « Already Victorious

  40. Just what I needed, thanks so much for the inspiring and practical post! :)

  41. amfbeministry on said:

    Our FATHER and our LORD CHRIST JESUS bless you with a double portion of all you and your family stand in need of and more. I so enjoyed reading your blog and I encourage you to continue to write about hope. So many people have lost hope or have no idea what hope is. JESUS is the hope that we look towards; it’s because of HIM that I have hope in all that HE has promised to me. I look forward to your future writings.

  42. I think you’ve hit upon an important truth here. I am praying for someone who regrets something she’s done and is only now beginning to be repentant. I think her life will start moving forward now. The other part of this is that the people she hurt will begin to forgive her, and from her repentance, she will start to forgive herself. What I think will help her through all of this is when she realizes that God has forgiven her of her sin as well! Thank you for this lesson in truth, Bill!

    • I hope she won’t wait for everyone she’s hurt to forgive her before she moves on – we cannot allow the reluctance of others to forgive hold us captive to our regrets. We must acknowledge that we’ve hurt them, ask them to forgive us, to the best of our ability right the wrongs committed and of course ask God to forgive us. That’s everything we can do except, as you said, believe that God has forgiven us.

      • You are right of course. It is easier to forgive when we see a changed life. But it is hard to come to a place to ask forgiveness, unless restitution is made and when the folks wronged will see sincerity.

  43. excellent piece on regret
    Thanks for sharing

  44. Pingback: Saturday Short and Sweet | Shandra Harris With Heart Wide Open

  45. Thank you, Bill. This is beautifully written.

  46. Thank you, Bill….for reminding us that in a sense, “regret” isn’t biblical. God provides a way of escape from this life-sucking hold that the enemy uses so effectively.

    King David was a man forced to live with the consequences o his own irreversible poor choices. His sin was ever before him and feelings of regret had the potential of haunting him forever, leaving him spiritually incapacitated and useless to God. Psalm 51 reveals that David found a better way to life – a way of cleansing and being washed by the forgiveness of God. So confident was David in the promise of God’s forgiveness that he sang, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” (v. 12)

    We can, indeed, refuse to be crippled by regret.

    I always look forward to your posts! Thank you for your insightful observations.

    • Thank you, Diane. King David is the perfect example of leaving regrets behind – he certainly had plenty of regrets. Like Peter and Paul, David repented of his regrets and moved ahead. But, like Judas, king Saul had regrets, but did not repent and he was miserable and, also like Judas, ended up committing suicide. Sad!

  47. Thank you Bill for lending clarity to the otherwise muddy waters of regret. At the end of the day (according to Paul), “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6b) Giving thanks to God for His infinite mercies is the only way to fly!

  48. This hit home..I am so quickly ready to jump into the “pit” of regret when things aren’t the way I would like them to be in the present. The “If only I hadn’t” thoughts are a quick way to slide down the slippery slopes of anxiety and depression. I just thank God for his marvelous grace. I also thank you for the reminder because this is a great example of encouraging one another :)

    Blessings!
    Ann

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