Living with regrets
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By Pastor Cory Swinderman
Last night, our family went to see the movie, Lightyear, at the Paris Theater. (It is hard to believe that the Toy Story franchise is still going 27 years later.) Without giving away too many movie details, one of the main themes in the movie is regret. When you let others down or you totally blow it, what do you do with the regret that you are left with?
No one likes regret. No one wants to think about their mistakes which led to their regret. And regret can weigh heavy upon you for years. In his book, The Power of Regret, Dan Pink shares that the only people who do not live with regrets are sociopaths, those who have experienced significant brain injuries, and children under the age of 5. Regrets are nearly universal. Regret is the second most common emotion behind love.
Because regrets make us feel bad, we often seek to bury them, forget about them, and let go of them. We treat them like a virus, doing our best to keep clean of them. Regret reminds us of a past that we cannot change, and therefore regret feels like a useless emotion.
But what if our regrets could teach us something? What if we saw within our regret seeds for growth in the present and the future?
Dan Pink shares the 4 basic types of regret:
1) Foundational Regrets – when you fail to make small decisions early in life that compound to make a big regret later in life. (Examples: failing to save for retirement, failing to practice a healthy lifestyle leading to health problems, or failing to pay off your credit card monthly).
2) Boldness Regrets – when you lack the courage to do something which was important to you. (Examples: failing to try for the promotion, remaining silent when you should have spoken up, failing to ask a girl out on a date).
3) Moral Regrets – when you choose to do something wrong (Many, many examples).
4) Connection Regrets – when you fail to reach out to someone else. (Examples: losing touch with friends over the years and across the miles, relationally growing apart from your spouse, failing to remain faithful in attending church)
In his book, Dan Pink shares that each of these regrets reveals something about what we value. But I wonder if it is deeper than that. I wonder if the God who loves us and created us, might be revealing part of his own desires for us within these regrets. Perhaps it is not only our values that these regrets reveal, but these regrets also reveal God’s values.
As Christians we often think about this in terms of moral regrets because moral regrets are the result of our sinful choices. God values goodness, and so it makes sense that the people he creates regret our sinful choices. God desires our holiness and an ability for us to live with honesty, integrity and transparency. God provides a way for us to have our sins forgiven, cleansed, and purified. It was because of our sin that Jesus died. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). And if we will allow God to continue to shape and transform us we will create far fewer moral regrets in the present for the future.
It is easiest to see God’s hand at work in our moral regrets, but God may be working in the other 3 areas of regret as well.
God values love, which is at the root connection regrets. We desire belonging and genuine friendship, and God desires that for us as well. Without our subsequent action, these regrets take us nowhere. But when these regrets are acted upon bridges are built, apologies are offered, forgiveness is shared, husbands take their wives out for their first date in months, letters are written, families return to churches, and ultimately love is shared. And upon each of these actions rests the fingerprints of God restoring relationships.
God values our stability, which is at the root of foundational regrets. We know that God values stability because the book of Proverbs is in the Bible, which speaks extensively about our unhealthy life, work, and money habits. Though we cannot return to our earlier life to make the small decisions which we failed to make at the time, God’s Word reminds us that He can help us live wisely today. The “if only” statements of the past may not be all that helpful, but the wise choices we make today will affect the life we live tomorrow.
Finally, God values our growth, which is at the root of boldness regrets. It takes courage to grow. Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone. Sometimes we have to silence the nagging doubt of our inadequacies. Some people are naturally bold, but if you live with boldness regrets you are probably not a naturally bold person. I love what the Lord said to a young man named Joshua when he was commissioned to lead God’s people into the Promised Land: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). This did not give Joshua permission to grow away from or apart from God. But as he followed the Lord, God gave him the strength and courage to grow.
These actions may not allow us to change the past, and these actions may not allow us to set everything right that we did wrong – this of course is what a certain young space ranger learned in a certain movie that I watched last night that I am not telling you details about. I would regret spoiling it for you.
But listen to what God might be telling you through the regrets that you have. They might be leading you to wisdom, loving action, and the growth He has for you.