The Teacher of Regret
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
“It’s no good going back to yesterday for I was a different person then.”
I got my first computer when I was, I think... 13 years old. The first months that I had it, I had no idea that there was such a function as Control-Z. I would write a paper for school, and when I would be almost finished, I would accidentally press Control-A and delete everything. Then, not knowing what to do, I had to type everything back out. It was my older brother who showed me how easy it was to undo a big mistake like that.
I wish I could Control-Z my life sometime. Actually, I'd like to use it a lot of times. I say something stupid. Control-Z. I drill a hole in the wall in the wrong place. Control-Z. I eat something that is not good for me and makes me feel bad. Control-Z. I guess we all would love to have this button to undo our mistakes. Life would be so, so much easier. But rather, we tend to ruminate about our past mistakes and unpleasant memories.
Here is a question: what place does regret have in our stories?
I think everybody wants to live a life without regret. But that won’t work. Studies show that regret is the second most felt emotion after love. So regret is very, very prominent. And that is good… because regret is a very important and very powerful teacher.
Regret helps us to improve ourselves and our story-line. It makes us rethink wrong decisions and change course, or apologize when we have to. It does so by teaching us to compare and contrast our lesser decisions with our better decisions and to choose the right one.
Regret teaches us self-control and patience. For example, if you simply follow your desires and have fun rather than studying for an exam or preparing for a meeting, you will end up with regret, which makes you want to control yourself better next time.
How do we cure stuck regret?
Psychologist say that talking about it or writing it down is very helpful in processing our feelings.
Self-compassion is very important. So try to understand why you made decisions and have patience with yourself. Research shows that people who cultivate self-compassion are more likely to recover from stress and sadness and change their behavior than self-critical people.
Sometimes it helps to look at yourself from an outsider's perspective. That way you can still your emotions for a while while you look at yourself.
In the Bible, all emotions are redemptive. I looked at words associated with passages on regret. Here are a few: forgetting the past and straining to what lies ahead; repentance leading to salvation; confession leading to cleansing; remember not… I am doing a new thing; redemption; working out for good; restoration; remembering no more…
But there are two particular stories that speak of regret.
Judas had regret and could not stop the guilt. He killed himself.
Peter had regret and could not stop the guilt. His regret humbled him to the point of him being a very powerful missionary… dying for Jesus Christ in a very humiliating but redemptive way.
Which do you choose when it comes to your worst mistakes?
So if you feel regret… know that a teacher is talking to you. Write down what you regret, but also what lesson out of that regret is going to improve your story. Bring your regret to God in prayer to redeem and cleanse it. If your regret is relational, make it right. You must. And then, know that God is a God who looks forward.
We don’t have a Control-Z button for our decisions. But we can easily underestimate how many of our decisions we can actually make right. That is why the challenge to write down your regret and strategize a way to make that which you regret a lesson. Then, take action. That is how you grow in your story.