Someone has said, “If you have one eye on yesterday and another eye on tomorrow, you’ll look at today cross-eyed.” That’s what regrets do to us. We are so focused on the past that we can’t focus on the present. Until recently, I never recognized having regrets as a form of worry, but it is. Regrets are when we worry over something we did from the past by thinking “if only’s…”. Thoughts like “If only I had been a better mother…” or “if only she hadn’t done that to me…” can haunt us and take away our peace and joy in the Lord, just like regretting that I didn’t ask for my father’s forgiveness.
What can we do to fight against this form of worry—regret? Let’s me share three ideas in three posts. The first? “Remember But Don’t Regret.”
The Apostle Paul could have easily struggled with regrets. He certainly had a lot to regret and also to be bitter about towards others. He was instrumental in helping Christians be killed and after coming to know Christ, he was misunderstood and rejected by Christians. Yet, he was able to write, “in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but 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 3:11-14 NASB).
Paul had learned the secret of overcoming regrets: forget the past and reach forward to the future. Yet, we could easily misunderstand his intent. He’s not saying we should be able to wipe a memory out of our minds. The Bible word “forget” means to “not be held hostage by.” Paul is not saying that his readers shouldn’t remember the past or else he wouldn’t have rehearsed the past as he did earlier in Philippians 3. But he is saying that they shouldn’t be held captive by the past which could include: past accomplishments, past heritage, past sins that have been forgiven, or past hurts that others had done to them.
Actually, there is value in remembering the past. Remembering our sins keeps us humble and dependent upon God. Yet, as in Paul’s example of a runner, we want to be like that athlete who is concentrating so hard on the goal ahead of us that we don’t look around to see where the other runners are. To do so would slow us down. Worry in the form of regrets slow us down in our “race” of trusting God each day.
What are you regretting? I know the feeling. I’ve regretted that I wasn’t a better mom. I’ve regretted that I got angry at my children. I’ve regretted the times I’ve been frustrated with my husband and not appreciated the great man he is. I’ve regretted my uncompassionate responses to friends. I’ve regretted not taking opportunities to share Christ that God prompted and I refused.
But I can’t go back! You can’t go back! Nothing, not even worry in the form of regret will change the past. Someone has said, “Worry is the darkroom in which ‘negatives’ are developed.” That’s what our regrets do! They stir up the ingredients for a negative view of life. We can remember without regretting.