It happens to everyone at some point: you sit down to eat at a restaurant with family and friends. After perusing the lengthy menu, you order. When the waiter delivers the food, it hits you—regret. You wonder why in the world you ordered the BLT when you see the plate of sizzling fajitas set down in front of your friend. Or why you thought it was a good idea to get the light portion of the garden salad when you see your husband’s giant Porter House steak and baked potato.
We experience regret on many levels for as many reasons—my fault, your fault, our fault, no one’s fault. Whether some evil was done intentionally or completely by mistake, we’ve let someone down and we regret the role we played. Just or unjust, we suffer the consequences. What happens next is where we show our true selves. The extent regret shapes our future relationships and self-worth is one of the most crucial factors to our happiness.
After some thought, prayer, and frank discussions with friends, I’ve come up with the following analogy: you’ve jumped into the sea with no life jacket and no plan. Upon further reflection you realize jumping was a huge mistake. You flail your arms wildly; angry with yourself and the so-called friends who let you jump. But angry arm-flailing isn’t helping the situation.
In the distance you see four buoys bobbing up and down and you realize they are there to lead you to the other side. You must swim to each buoy and rest before moving on. Here are the four places you must cross:
- See the challenging situation as an opportunity. You’ve always wanted to get better at being you and here’s the perfect excuse to improve! It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Use this painful time to grow. Don’t waste it.
- Forgive yourself and others. Regret is a battle with shame. Hanging on to the bitterness that comes with the sins of betrayal, selfishness, miscommunication, and misdeeds is mostly harmful to yourself. The sooner you can extend forgiveness, the sooner you can heal.
- Be thankful. Regret prevents us from seeing the blessings we have. When we concentrate only on the pain we’ve caused and/or endured, we’re cheating ourselves of enjoying the sanctifying power of gratitude.
- Move on with the help of God and your community. When an error becomes public, it feels like your flaws and mistakes are hanging out of you like a gruesome, bleeding wound. A friend who continues to work through the pitfalls of regret told me “the first place your mind goes is to the depressing place of loneliness. You feel like you are all alone. The Biblical version of community shatters that loneliness.” When you can be transparent about your sin and find love and understanding in spite of your transgressions, you can move past it with a lesser burden of regret.
Regret and bitterness nearly always go together but that doesn’t have to be your default setting. As my friend told me, “After you’ve really messed up, regret and bitterness is the first stop but don’t make it a rest stop.”