What to Do with My Regrets
By: Jon Gauger
Rather than letting go of our regrets, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging them.
I should be dead by now. Really. Thankfully, as a boy of 15, I underwent surgery for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Had my parents not opted for such a treatment, statistics say I wouldn’t be alive today because of the crushing my internal organs would have received from the twisting of my own spine. If not dead, my torso would resemble something like the fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The surgery was no minor deal. First, an incision was made from my waist to the top of my shoulders (about two feet long). After straightening the spine and fastening two metal rods (each rod about a foot long) into the vertebrae, the surgeon chipped tiny fragments off my hip and then carefully placed them along the vertebrae to create a bone fusion.
Recovery was slow. Every four hours I was rotated from my back to my stomach on a circular bed frame resembling equipment from a circus acrobatic act. After nearly two weeks of rotating bed confinement, I was informed that the next day would be “casting day,” when I would get a plaster cast covering most of my upper body, allowing for near normal mobility. I distinctly recall the nurse warning me the night before. “Your incision is healing, and you’ll likely feel an itching sensation tonight. Whatever you do, don’t scratch your scar.”
But what I felt that night was more than an itching sensation. It was an itching assault. An itching warfare. I scratched (bad decision). And the scars itched more. I scratched more. And the scars itched still more. At the height of this agony (I do not overstate the moment), it was all I could do to force myself to clench the tubular steel of the circular frame bed and quote every Bible verse I’d ever learned over and over. It remains the most awful night of my life.
Who knew a scar could cause so much pain?
Regrets are scars of the soul. We carry them around with us, and every now and then they itch. So we scratch them. We replay that thoughtless deed, that hurtful conversation. But instead of relief, we sense only a greater discomfort. Rather than let these memories go, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging our regrets.
What should we do with our scars when they assault us at night or in moments of tired reflection?
Scars, medical experts tell us, require regular and proper care (mine still itch or get occasional scabs). But what kind of care is there for scars of the soul? It’s a question we put to our contributors. Just what should we do with our regrets?
This is simple: Pray for forgiveness. Ask the Christ who fought the devil to come and speak to our regret. Invariably, the word the Lord brings us is, “Go and sin no more. I have forgiven you. Now go on. Get up. Go back to your life and be better than you were.”
I read a long time ago that regret is the most subtle form of self-love. The temptation to regret comes the same way as any other temptation. What we need to do is readily embrace the gift of God’s grace. A lot of people have had their lives filled with failure, yet they do really well at the end. We need to encourage one another with that. Regarding our specific regrets, God has forgiven us. He knows how to work things out for good, so we can’t dwell on regret. We have to somehow move forward because it’s a form of anxiety to dwell on our regrets, paying too much attention to ourselves. We need to claim God’s forgiveness and grace and press on.
What do we do with our regrets? Now that’s a question I can answer readily for two reasons. One, I messed up so much before I came to know genuine salvation at the age of 29, and it had great ramifications. Second, I am a perfectionist. I battle with, “I could have done it better, I should have, I wish I had, why didn’t I?” This is where I must run to the open arms of my Sovereign God and all His promises and bring them to bear on my regrets. Also, I would add that we need to remember Satan is the accuser of the children of God (Revelation 12:10-11), so I have to stay dressed in His armor, rejoicing that He will make me “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
The first thing we have to do is thank God for grace. Go back to the cross. Preach the gospel to ourselves and realize, “I am not the Christ. I am a sinner who needs a Savior—and thank God I have a Savior.” I thank God He has not dealt with me according to my sins or as I deserve. The sum total of my life will not be about how well I performed, how well I lived up to my goals, or how successfully I overcame my bad habits or sinful patterns. When it’s said and done, the sum total will be Christ my righteousness. He took my sin—He who had no sin—on Himself. He clothed me in His righteousness, and that is the only basis on which I will ever be able to stand before God and not be ashamed. Every day I have to preach that gospel back to myself and live in the constant conscious awareness that Christ is my life. He is my righteousness. He is my only hope in life and in death.
Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I believe all of our sins—past, present, and future—are under the blood of Christ, that we’re forgiven. I think we need to live as forgiven people. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Genuine repentance is not thinking about what I should have done or what I could have done. It’s thinking about what Christ has done, and living in that. When your kids were little and they would act up, what you wanted was for them to forsake the bad behavior and go forward. That’s what I believe the Lord wants for us. Not to wallow in our failures, but to revel in His grace and to give it to others.
Joni Eareckson Tada
I love to read passages in Scripture that remind me that God has a poor memory when it comes to my sin. He remembers my sin no more (Isaiah 43:25). He separates me from my sin as far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Psalm 103:11-12). That is what makes the Good News so great! God will not remember our sins. You know what? We shouldn’t either.
Michael W. Smith
You use regrets for good. That’s one reason I started Rocketown, a club for kids in Nashville. I love speaking to youth. I’m able to say, “Hey, guys, let me tell you my story.” Based on my own experiences, I have a little bit of credibility talking to some kid who is smoking dope every day and getting high, struggling with drugs. I say, “I’ve been there.” He might respond, “Yeah, whatever.” Then I tell him my story, and all of a sudden he’s listening because I have been there. I get to say, “Guys, it’s a dead-end street. It’ll take you down. This is not what your destiny is.” Regret gives me an opportunity to speak into kids’ lives because of the fact that I’ve been there.
Taken from If I Could Do It All Over Again. Copyright © 2016 by Jon Gauger. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon. Used by Permission.