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:


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”

Wandering in the Wilderness

My friend Amy loves to talk about the forty years the ancient Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness. Sure, she also loves to talk about her kids and her husband and her job, but she brings up those poor wandering ones pretty regularly.


Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how applicable their tale of frustration and correction can be to my own life.


Imagine for a moment standing in their sandals: You disobeyed and you misplaced your trust. Now you will have forty years to think about what you’ve done. They had just left Egypt after several generations of slavery, and they assumed everything would be smooth sailing once they crossed that pesky Red Sea, leaving Pharaoh in their dust. But it wasn’t.


There were armies to conquer and land to claim as their own. They felt as small as grasshoppers compared to what lie ahead, so they did what anyone might do in that situation. They doubted and griped. They moaned and blamed.


They complained about the food and the water. They complained that Moses talked to God too long on the mountain, and when he finished talking to God, they complained that his face was too shiny. These people were hard to please.


So finally God had enough. He told them that the majority of the adults—including Moses—wouldn’t be able to enter the Promised Land. They would have to set up their tents and wait out the next forty years in the desert. Remorseful adults would pull their children on their laps or solemnly stare at the upturned faces seated around their tables and tell them, “Learn from our mistakes.” Those children were given the task of remembering the miracles of the Passover while never forgetting God’s punishment of their elders.


My friend Amy recently asked, “Do you think it was a mistranslation and they meant to say forty days instead of forty years?” Forty years is a long time, a lifetime. She said, “They must have spent those forty years wandering and wondering.” Did they think: Why are we here? What have we done? What was the point?


Sometimes I find myself wandering in circles. Things don’t go as I plan due to events out of my control or my own actions prevent me from seeing the ending I had hoped for. Then I find myself winding round and round with the same questions: Why am I here? What have I done? What was the point?


Maybe you are wandering in a wilderness right now. Where you expected smooth sailing, you’ve found only 100 mph hurricanes. I believe it’s possible for us to reach the Promised Land. It may not be exactly what we’re expecting, but there is hope with every breath. There is time to make things right. There is a chance for us to make life better for others and then for ourselves.