Here’s a second idea for dealing with regrets: “Remember But Forgive.”
The key is to forgive. Forgive ourselves and forgive others. No, we may not be able to forget, but we can forgive. Rick Warren writes, “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it. God’s purpose is not limited by your past.” (pg. 29, Purpose Driven Life).
Forgiveness releases the regrets of life. Forgiveness is a choice to let go of focusing on the hurt that we inflicted upon ourselves or others. It’s changing our thinking from “if only I …” to “next time I will…” when regrets assail us. And it’s changing our thinking from “I hate her for…” to “I’m no longer going to try to punish her for…”
For instance, if you said something hurtful to someone, you might be thinking, “If only I had been more helpful.” You can forgive yourself by asking your friend for her forgiveness and then think, “Next time, I’ll look at it from that person’s perspective.” Or if you were angry at your daughter, you are most likely thinking, “If only I hadn’t yelled at her.” Instead, forgive yourself by asking her for her forgiveness and then think, “Next time, I’ll walk away first and come back when I’m calm.”
Once you make a decision to forgive yourself or someone else, know that it’s like peeling an onion. There will be many layers to take off. Just because the old feelings of regrets return doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It just means you need to peel off another layer of regrets by making that choice again and again!
Is it possible? Yes, I know it is. I was filled with regrets about the way I treated my daughter, Darcy, when I physically and verbally abused her as a two-year-old. I constantly yelled at her, at times kicking her, hitting her in the head and one time I even choked her. She cowered when I raised my hand innocently to scratch my head. It broke my heart to know she was terrified of me. Even after God gave me the patience to be the loving mom I wanted to be and Darcy even seemed more trusting of my love for her, I still agonized over the mental and emotional damage I’d done. “I’ve done so much damage; there’s no way Darcy can grow up as an emotionally healthy adult. All the experts say that by the time a child is several years old they can be scarred for life. And Darcy is only two! She’s experienced so much fear already! And can we really have a good relationship? She may never forgive me completely!”
My wondering turned into fretting and then into regrets. I was horrified as I remembered the painful things I’d done to her. The images of hurting her constantly rumbled in my mind. Can God heal Darcy? Can I forgive myself for what I’ve done?
I also wondered if God could forgive me. Jesus said that anyone who hurt a child should be thrown into the sea with a weight around them. I knew I deserved that! I knew intellectually that child abuse could be forgiven but I couldn’t feel God’s forgiveness. That added to me constantly looking in the rear view mirror of regrets.
Then one day I was flipping through my Bible and noticed a verse I’d never seen before. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25 NASB) As I meditated on that verse, I was so struck by the phrase, “for My own sake.” I whispered, “You mean, God, that you want to wipe out my sin, not just for my benefit, but for yours too?”
That amazed me! God benefited in some way by forgiving me. How, God? And then I realized, You want to have fellowship with me because you love me so much. And if there is unforgiven sin within me, you can’t have fellowship with me.
That meant so much! God gained from forgiving me and I was taking away that blessing by living in the land of regrets. From then on, each time that I began regretting my reactions toward Darcy, I remembered that verse. It set me free from thinking I couldn’t be forgiven and couldn’t forgive myself. God wanted to forgive me! Not just wanted, but longed! He felt blessed when He could forgive me so that we could enjoy fellowship. And my regrets have been soothed by the wonderful relationships that Darcy and I enjoy today. Today, Darcy is a wonderful married woman who loves God and who loves…me! All that I’d fretted about and regretted never brought the bad results I feared.
Is there something that you regret? Is it hard to forgive yourself or to forgive someone else? Know that God wants you to forgive yourself and other people for your benefit and His. You can’t forget what happened to you. But you can remember and forgive. Then you won’t be looking in the rear view mirror or regrets or bitterness.