Something that I have continued to struggle with is regret. Regret over past sins and mistakes. Regret over making unwise choices. Regret of not taking advantage of certain opportunities. Regret of things that I could have done better as a mother when raising my kids as a single parent, and even now. I find that these periods of regret are intensified when I visit the place I grew up or raised my kids. Sometimes these feelings are triggered by a song from past seasons, or an old, familiar scent. I take a mental trip down memory lane and become melancholy, and start to wish that I could go back in time, to either relive “the good times” when my kids (and I) were young, or to go back and correct past mistakes. Self-condemnation comes knocking on my door, and becomes relentless. But is that the way God wants me to live my life? To be held captive by regret, guilt, and condemnation? Doesn’t the Word tell us that He came to set the captives free? Free from whatever burden that may enslave us?
When I find myself in that dark place, the Lord has been so merciful and loving by bringing to my mind that whatever I have done, Jesus took care of it on the cross. My past sins, He has forgiven me. My unwise choices, He will restore the years that the locusts consumed. He also reminds me that some unwise or painful decisions eventually turned out to be a blessing later down the road. For example, years ago, I had purchased a home, with the hopes of improving the quality of life for me and my kids. I was still a baby Christian, so I didn’t seek the Lord in my decision to move an hour away from my mom and the city I called home for 30 years. I got caught up with the mentality that owning a home equates to being successful. I loved having a big, spacious home, but the cost, upkeep and stress finally got the best of me, and I decided to sell it three years later. Sometimes, when I am feeling discontented with our small living quarters now, I find myself looking back and wishing I still had that big home, but then I look at where I am at now, and I realize that I am in a much better place now. If I hadn’t sold my home and moved to the city I am in now, I wouldn’t have found the church family that I have now. And, I wouldn’t have met my husband. So things turned out much better in the end.
It is a little harder for me to overcome the regret of past sins. I think part of the reason is because of the religion that I was brought up in, living under the constant burden of guilt and shame. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and their stance on sin can be pretty harsh, with their discipline being very severe. I was disfellowshipped, or shunned and ostracized, from this religion, which I had been raised in and a part of for 30 years, for being what they determined, an “unrepentant sinner”. Never mind that I had been heartbroken and depressed over my sin, and in tears when meeting with the panel of elders. They decided my fate, which ultimately soured my kids on religion and God, and sent me almost over the edge mentally and emotionally. But again, God was so wonderful, because he used this painful experience to get me to start seeking Him, the real Him, and I found Jesus, and became born again, and the chains of bondage to this religion was broken. Though my mind knows that I have complete forgiveness when I confessed my sins and accepted Jesus, I still battle in the heart with regret and shame, and it is a constant struggle that I am slowly overcoming, with His help.
As always, I find great comfort in finding examples in the bible of people who struggled with the same issues that I do. Peter also struggled with regret. After telling Jesus he would lay down his life for him, it was only a few hours later that he denied Jesus three times. Can you imagine how Peter felt after Jesus turned and looked at him after that last time of denying Him? It must have pierced Peter’s heart sharply, because it says “he turned and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61-62). But Jesus was so loving and merciful. He forgave Peter and restored him when He reappeared after His resurrection. After asking Peter three times if he loved him and Peter responded in the affirmative, Jesus gave him three commands: “feed My lambs, tend My sheep, and feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). I’m sure at times Peter must have felt regret and shame over his actions for the rest of his life, but he didn’t let it hinder him or hold him back from what Jesus called him to do, which was to shepherd, or pastor, His flock. He accepted Jesus’ grace and forgiveness, and he became a bold witness for Christ, ultimately dying for his faith, being crucified upside down. Paul is another example. I am sure he must have felt enormous regret over all the Christians he persecuted and killed prior to his conversion. He referred to himself as the “least of all apostles” and said “I am unworthy to be called an apostle because I persecuted the house of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). He referred to himself as “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), but he didn’t let his past hinder his future. He focused on what was ahead and on what was important: furthering the gospel, preaching it far and wide, and encouraging his brothers and sisters in faith with his eloquent and heartfelt letters to the churches. He said “but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
I am learning that in order for me to overcome my feelings of regret, I need to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and what he has done for me. He doesn’t judge my worth by my past mistakes or sins. He has cast my sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). My life is not over because I have past failures. He is not done with me; He is the Author and Finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). As I was reflecting on it this week, the Lord reminded me that there is nothing good to be accomplished by looking back, and then he reminded me of Lot’s wife, and we know what happened to her when she looked back. True, she was probably looking back because she was longing for the material things she enjoyed and did not want to leave that comfortable life behind, but isn’t that kind of what I’ve been doing? Longing for my younger years, so that my older self can make my younger self avoid the pain of costly mistakes, and make my younger years more easy and comfortable? If they had been, I may not have been driven to seek the Lord, and submit myself to Him, because life might have been too good and comfortable and I would have been complacent living status quo. I know that God uses painful situations and despair to get us to turn to Him, so that is another reason that I cannot live my life in regret, because God used my past failures to help me to be a better and wiser person now, so that I can perhaps share my stories and wisdom with someone else. Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”, and this comforts me when I am feeling regretful over something. I think Paul was talking to me in Titus 3:3-7, when he said “we were also once foolish, disobedient and deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures”, but he reminds me that God, by his mercy, saved me, by the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”. Oh, how great a comfort these words of encouragement are!