All of us have moments in our lives we would like to go back and fix. Words we wish we had or hadn’t spoken. Actions we wish we had or hadn’t taken. If we only knew back then what we know now, how different things might have turned out.
Of course, that’s not how life works. Wisdom comes with age – and a lot of mistakes. In fact, there’s probably no better teacher. So it doesn’t do much good to beat ourselves up over something we can’t go back and change.
But what to do about the lingering sense of regret over lost opportunities? Or sorrow over the hurt our words or actions may have caused? How can we forgive ourselves and shut down the “what if” and “if only” thoughts that can sometimes plague us?
Finding the remedy for regret begins with forgiving yourself.
Forgiving yourself is not always an easy task. Especially if the soul bully voice inside is particularly loud and insistent. But here are a few ways to get started.
Come out of hiding.
Hiding or making excuses for our behavior can sometimes feel like a viable option for tuning out the voice of regret. If I can just convince myself that it really didn’t matter or couldn’t be avoided, I can dismiss the momentary twinges of regret that tug at me. But hiding from myself, God and others won’t erase the nagging “what if” and “if only” thoughts that keep popping up to repeat on a seemingly endless loop.
Instead of hiding or denying, we can take our regret to God and lay out the full truth about what happened. Let His forgiveness wash over you and then ask Him to show you a few things. Like what was under your control when you did the thing you regret. And what wasn’t. Ask Him to help you sort out what part is your responsibility. The part you need to own. The part you need to forgive. And if any of it might still be made better with an apology to others you may have hurt.
Forgiveness always requires extending grace. When we choose to forgive others, it’s grace that guides us as we talk about what happened, apologize to one another, and decide what to do next to rebuild our relationship. Grace is what makes it possible for us to give and receive forgiveness so we can move past what happened. And grace helps us decide what shape our relationship will take as we move forward.
Sometimes we find grace easier to offer others than ourselves. I know I don’t mess around when I berate myself for past mistakes! I use language I would never use with a friend. Things like “I should have known better! How could I have been so stupid?” can get stuck in my head. The only way to get unstuck is to let grace be my guide.
Grace makes it possible for me to remember that perhaps I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. And that everybody makes mistakes. And while these two truths can’t quiet the bullying voice of regret on their own, by extending this kind of grace to myself, I’m trusting God with what happened in the past and with what’s coming in the future.
Swap “what if” for “thank you.”
It’s easy to think, “I blew it!” when life looks like a mess because of something we’ve done or failed to do. But every time we think we’ve made a complete mess of things, God is right there saying, “Let me show you how we’re going to turn this into something beautiful.”
Watch for the beauty He’s creating from your mistakes. And every time you catch a glimpse of it, give thanks for the miracle of new life He causes to spring up from something you thought was dead or broken beyond repair.
Has your experience made you less fearful? More committed or determined to never miss a similar opportunity? Maybe it’s led you to a place you might have missed if circumstances had been different? No matter the size of your mistake, God will bring beauty from the mess if we invite Him in.
We aren’t living in a world of “what ifs.”
There is no going back to change our past mistakes. But if regret is lingering, there is a remedy.
When we speak of our mistakes with full truth and honesty, we can learn to do things differently. When we see our mistakes through grace-filled eyes, we can forgive ourselves. And when we give thanks for where God has brought us – by way of the very mistakes we regret – we get a glimpse of the beauty He’s creating from the “what ifs” in your life and mine.
And we, along with our regrets, are transformed.