I am pretty sure that we could all make lists of our regrets. I could quite easily start with my pencil back in elementary school and fill a page with stupid, foolish, and sinful things I did that I regret. Then I could move on to fill a couple of pages with junior high and high school, and then get a new notebook to start with the college years. And that would only be the stuff I remember.
But God intervened in my life in 1973, the summer after my junior year of college. Not that He had been absent all those years before. But He shed His light in my heart, opened my eyes, and turned me from darkness to light. I was forgiven, washed, restored, and put right. In fact, for a minute there I was sparkly clean.
But I soon discovered that even though many of my old sinful habits were gone, and even though I was a new person, inside and out, I still had plenty of remaining sinfulness left to be dealt with.
So do you suppose I have any regrets since 1973? Have I done any dumb, foolish things? Have I made decisions that didn’t turn out the way I thought they would? Have I said stupid things I wish I hadn’t? All of these are rhetorical questions. Of course I have! But I have consistently sought God’s forgiveness for these stupid and/or sinful things. Sometimes they are truly sin (most of the time) and sometimes they are simply foolish, which may or may not be sin. Either way, I’ve put things right with God and right with others countless times. Call it an ongoing bath. Regular scrubbing. That’s what repentance is.
Real repentance seeks real forgiveness, but it can still feel like a fool. And regret is disappointment over what we’ve done. It’s what keeps us looking back, and it keeps that humiliating disappointment alive. But I believe that regret is all tangled up with pride. Pride says, “Why did I do such a stupid thing? I know better. I am not that kind. I am wiser than that. I am pretty sure that it was a momentary blip caused by hunger or hormones or not enough caffeine. I am so embarrassed.” Regret flatters us into thinking we are really better people than we are, that we would do it better if we were given another chance.
A real repentance deals with the root of the matter, which means that we humble ourselves and confess to God that we really are the kind of people who say or do stupid or foolish or sinful things. Real repentance doesn’t keep any self-respect around to enable long-term mourning over our mistakes.
So. Don’t waste your time regretting. Regret usually begins with thoughts like, “If only…” or “I wish I hadn’t…” or “If I could do that again…” It is unfruitful. It focuses on the wrong things (what might have been) rather than on what’s happening now.
We all have plenty to regret, but regret can just feed discontent and increase our sorrow. We have far more to be grateful for. So when I am tempted to feel regret, I remind myself that it is not relevant. This is chapter ten, and fussing over what happened back in chapter six will only slow me down. It’s not productive. No one wants to hear about it. It’s unfruitful. It’s clearly not a fruit of the Spirit. We learn from our mistakes (failures, etc.) so that we can press forward, not so we can look back at what might have been or not been. God is good.