Regret is seeing life through your eyes instead of God’s

Wouldn’t it be great to live a life with no regrets? Can you imagine the freedom you would have if you weren’t constantly mired down with the weight of memory of how you never seem to measure up?

What are regrets anyway? From what I’ve experienced, regret is what we feel when we wish we could have another chance to choose differently. College students regret how they spent spring break. Adults regret how they raised their children. Executives regret that last business meeting.

Regret is wishing you had another chance to go back and change the decision you made. In some cases, regret is good because it teaches us the value of our choices. But here’s the deal: Once you made a decision, you can’t go back and change it. You can’t go back in time and change the past. Believe me, if Doc Brown and Marty McFly couldn’t manage it, neither could you.

379367_7377_shameToday’s verses are Psalm 34:4-5.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.

So the good part of regret comes in helping us remember not to make that same choice again.

But have you ever been a place where you made a good choice and regretted it? Have you ever decided to do what God told you to do and soon after felt regret? Wished you could go back and change your mind?

So many good, well-meaning Christ-followers would tell you, “No! Of course, not!” Because no good Christian would ever say that following God will make you regret it. But before those good, well-meaning Christ-followers get asked that question, many of them have often had many years to think about what God has done in their lives as a result of that decision.

Take any Christ-follower who is trying his or her best to follow God, and step into their lives for a day when everything is going wrong, where nothing feels right, and where God seems silent. Then ask them if they regret their decision. See what they say then.

To me, regret is very much the same as anger. It’s not a sin to feel it. Just because for a moment you wish you’d made a different decision doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It just means you’re human and you’re going through a rough time. What matters is what you do in response to it.

Is it possible to live life without feeling regret? Even as a Christ-follower, no, I don’t think it is. But is it possible to live life without suffering because of regret? Absolutely.

Just because you feel regret doesn’t mean it has to determine the course of your life. Because for a moment you wish you would have chosen differently doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of your situation right now. Just because you don’t understand where you are or why you’re there doesn’t mean God can’t use you.

Recognize regret for what it is.

If you’ve made a foolish choice, change your mind about it. Tell God about it. Ask for forgiveness. He’s faithful and just to forgive that sin and make your life clean and new. And then, let it go. Stop holding on to your regret. God doesn’t, so why are you?

If you’re following God and making choices based on what God has said, and you feel regret about something you’ve chosen to do for Him … just stop for a minute. And think.

Don’t feel. Just think.

Why would you regret doing something for God? Why would you want to go back and change your mind about doing what God has called you to do? Because it’s hard? Because it’s a lonely road that few travel?

Regret can be good to teach lessons, but when you get right down to it, regret is only good for getting people mired in the muck of their emotions. It’s one of our enemy’s great tools of distraction, because if he can slow us down and beat us up with it, he can keep us from being effective.

You can follow God and feel regret, yes, but that’s because you’re seeing your position in life as a result of your choices instead of God’s plan. Yes, if you make foolish choices, you’ll face consequences. And we absolutely have free will to choose our own path. But if you follow God and you still end up in trouble, does that mean God can’t get you out of it?

If you start seeing your life as a product of God’s plans, it changes everything. That’s how you live with no regrets. You trust God with everything. You do the things He tells you to do. And when life gets rocky (and it will), you try to see things from His point of view instead of your own.

Because then you see that there are no accidents. Then you see that no matter how you may screw something up, God has always got a plan. And no matter how much you wish your life might be different, you can trust that eventually your life will be better than you ever dreamed.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When a good question becomes a time waster

As 2011 comes to a close, it’s natural to look forward to the new year. People will be making resolutions, mainly revolving around losing weight. Some people will make resolutions to work harder to finish something they started years ago or to start something completely new. And that’s good. We all need goals and dreams, though many folks won’t follow through no matter how good intentioned they are.

But as another year winds down, I think we should take the time to look backward instead of forward.

Looking backward isn’t always productive because it depends on your perspective. And generally speaking, I don’t recommend looking backward at all. Because it’s easy to get caught in the regret trap, where you can see now the things you wish you would have done or how you wish you would have done something differently. But you can’t change the past, and regret is a useless thing to feel for a long period of time.

But there is one reason we need to look back, and David stated it quite well in today’s passage, Psalm 103:1-2.

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      may I never forget the good things he does for me.

People are forgetful creatures. We do great when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong and we lose the security we think we had, we blame God. Or we get angry at God. Or we become convinced that God no longer cares about us. Or we give up on God, believing that He must not want the best for us after all. Or that He doesn’t exist.

Okay. Well. Stop.

Because when everything was going fine and all was right in the world, God was good. Only when life takes a turn for the worst do people start feeling abandoned and like God doesn’t care. And once you go down that road — the path of blaming God for the perceived injustices in your life — people don’t seem to be able to drag themselves out of it. And I think it’s less of a God issue and more of a person issue.

Because we think we know better than God.

I know I do. Deep down inside myself, my first inclination when things go wrong is to sink into depression and self-pity and complain about why God lets bad things happen to me. But oftentimes our first inclination isn’t the right inclination. And the moment I start feeling that way, I try to stop. Not because it’s wrong, though.

It’s not wrong to question God. It’s not wrong to wonder why. It’s not wrong to seek an explanation. But those responses waste time. And time is something we don’t have a lot of. And when I look back over my life, I see many examples of times that I knew God was telling me to do something and I waited around demanding a clearer sign. Or I waited to act because I wanted Him to confirm the things I thought He wanted me to do. Or I waited because I wanted to understand why He was testing me. And when I look back on my responses to His calling, I am appalled at the amount of time I wasted.

Not saying that God didn’t eventually use me to accomplish great things. But it took me a long time to get my feet moving. And in the time it took me to get moving, I could have accomplished so much more.

But regretting the things I didn’t do or didn’t finish or didn’t notice is a waste of what time I have now. Because I can’t change it. All I can do is vow not to let those things slip by again. I can promise God that I won’t drag my feet when He tells me to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds. And that when He lets difficult things come into my life, that I won’t question.

I understand that I can question, but I’m going to. Because the sooner I get through the testing, the sooner I can learn what He needs me to learn and move on to the next thing. And then when I look back on my life, I will see that I didn’t waste time trying to understand what God was doing. I just did it. And that way, I won’t forget.

When I encounter a trial, I won’t just sit and ask why; I’ll go through it. I won’t lose time that could have been spent doing something else. I won’t ask why so many times that I forget why I’m experiencing the trial to begin with. And then I will be able to point back to the time when I learned something from the troubles in my life. They won’t just be passing woes that I experience over and over again, pinning me down in a black hole I can’t climb out of. The struggles in my life will have meaning because I know I’m going to learn something — and I know that God is going to keep working even if I can’t see him. 

That’s my hope for 2012. 2011 has been a hard year. I can’t say it’s been the hardest, and I can’t say that I’ve struggled more than other people. Because I have a job and I have a family and I have friends and I have a car and I have a church and I have a house and I have food. So that probably puts me in the top one percentile of the world as far as wealth and provision and comfort.

But I do have a bad memory. And I often forget how faithful He is to me. And I want that to change. May I never get so bogged down in the trials of the present that I forget what He did for me yesterday or what He promised to do for me tomorrow.