Regret -- A Bitter Pill

I've been thinking a lot about regret.  

It is a bitter pill. 

Regret steals your joy, haunts your days, and taunts you with "what ifs."
I believe there are two aspects to regret.  One is the sorrow or remorse you feel for something you have done, and the other is the sense of loss you feel for something you didn't do. Of the two, I believe the second aspect of regret is the one that is most damaging. 

The good news though, is that it doesn't have to be.  Let me explain.

When I do something that I regret later (speak an unkind word or do an unkind act), I generally have the means to, at least in part, undo that action.  I can apologize for my sharp tongue, or ask for forgiveness for wronging someone.  Not always, but usually.

The second aspect of regret carries the greater sting however, because it is almost always impossible to reclaim a lost opportunity. You know you should volunteer to help clean up at church, but you selfishly let someone else do it.  You feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to buy the homeless woman a meal, but instead you drive on by. You sense an opening in a conversation to share your testimony, but you chicken out and say nothing. You are dogged with regret for an opportunity that will never come again.

One of my most recent regrets is that I did not take the time to develop a deeper relationship with my sister-in-law, Kay.  Busy with child rearing, homeschooling, working, and serving at church, I did not make it a priority to spend time with her.  

Oh, we enjoyed each other, had fun at every "official" family gathering, and partnered together to help take care of Kay's mom, but we never took the time to really develop a friendship. Last year about this time, in anticipation of my first year with no children to homeschool, I had even said, "Once I'm done homeschooling, I want to take more time to get to know Kay."  Many of you know that Kay died suddenly of a brain aneurysm a year ago, and I lost that opportunity forever.  I feel regret.

My friend Isie shared a similar story:  "One day while driving home from downtown, I saw an older person walking SLOWLY by the side of the road.  I thought, 'I should stop and offer this person a ride,' but didn't, and Ithought about it the whole way home."  Regret.  It is a bitter pill.

Though we all have regrets for lost opportunities, I want to challenge you that regret doesn't have to be a bad thing.  If we process it properly, it can even be a positive force for good.  The apostle Paul was no stranger to regret.  He lived with sorrow over things he did (persecuted Christians, consented to the stoning of Stephen, and wreaked havoc on the early church), and I suspect, because he was human, he also suffered pangs of regret over missed opportunities.  After all, He was alive when Jesus walked the earth, yet he rejected him.  Talk about regret!  

From his experience, he gives us wise words for how to deal with regret.  In Philippians 3:13  he says , "Forgetting those things that are behind, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."  From his later actions, we know that he didn't just forget what was behind (wrong actions and missed opportunities) , but instead, he learned from those missed opportunities and purposed to be a different person in the future because of them, not in spite of them.

My friend Isie applied Paul's method for handling regret to her situation:

  "Some time later, on a rainy cold winter morning, I passed an older lady wearing a faded orange jacket hunched under a pink umbrella, shuffling along the sidewalk beside Bull Street.  I drove to the next intersection, made a U-turn and after several turns ended up parked a short distance from where the lady would pass.  She was stopping every few feet and had probably only gone 50 yards during the several minutes it too me to find a place to park near her route.

I jumped out in the rain, walked over to her and popped under her umbrella. Imagine my surprise when this old lady turned out to be a toothless old man wearing a watch cap. He was thrilled to accept my offer of a ride, and while it was difficult to understand his speech, it was easy enough to feel his appreciation as he rode along and directed me to his house which was less than half a mile.  Easy for me to drive, but at least 30 -40 minute walk at his pace." 

This was my do-over, and really had me begin to think of the people we miss each day that we could help if the Lord opened our eyes."

Regret doesn't have to be something that dogs our steps for the rest of our lives. Instead, it can be a powerful catalyst for change that. if properly applied with an equal measure of God's forgiveness, can make us a better person instead of a bitter person.

I missed the opportunity to develop a  deep and sweet friendship with my sister-in-law, Kay, but I have the consolation that we will have an eternity in which to hang out together.  In the mean time, I have allowed the regret I feel over that missed opportunity to remind me each day to take time for the precious people that God has placed in my life.  

If you have regret over actions you have done, do your best to make them right. If you have regret over lost opportunities, confess those regrets to the Lord, allow his forgiveness to cleanse you, and purpose each day, with his enabling, to live life with no regrets.

God bless you as we walk the faith walk together!

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