Defeating Regret Before It Overwhelms You - Part 1

I'm 47. I've been married to my best friend for nearly 26 years. I have 3 incredible kids; actually 4 because my son got married, and so I have another daughter. I have a loving family that supports me and champions who I am and what I do. What do I do?  In case you didn't know, I lead a wonderful church, filled with tender, powerful and compassionate people. I describe my life because I want you to know that the canvas of my life is full of color, beauty and texture. I love my life and I'm grateful to Jesus Christ who pulled me out of a life of hell, gave me His life, His peace, His hope, His power, His grace and has given me an opportunity to do the things I love.  

Even though I'm surrounded by beauty and feel deep contentment in my heart, there looms, even stalks within the dark recesses of my mind and heart, a monster. He's not necessarily big or intimidating, but he is persistent. I hear others speak of him. I see how this monster is affecting the lives of many people; and because this monster overwhelms, he diminishes the quality of their life and the impact of their life. I believe this monster wants to do the same thing in my life and yours. This monster is REGRET.  

Regret is defined as "a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done. It comes from an Old French word, 'regreter' that means to "bewail (the dead) or perhaps from the Germanic base of 'greet' which means 'weep or cry'" [1].

The Bible tells us that when hope is deferred it makes the heart sick [2]. Living in regret and putting off hope to another time sickens our soul, blurs our vision, minimizes what we believe is possible, encourages us to shrink our dreams and play it safe. Disappointment, deferred hope, or as I'm calling it "regret", walks amidst our beautiful lives, wanting to infect our environment with feelings of sadness and disappointment. I know it’s present in my world because I continually try to avoid it. I focus on avoiding the monster and in doing so, it has an advantage. How so? When I focus more on regret than the beautiful life around me, I'm no longer present in my story. When I focus more on regret than the opportunities in front of me, I'm no longer living and walking in my calling and purpose. When I focus more on regret than a life being lived well, I'm using my energy and reasoning, dreaming to avoid a negative instead of leveraging the positive.

Because of my unwanted dance with regret, I recently asked a friend who is 20+ years older than me, "If you had to live your life over, what would you do differently to avoid the mistakes?" He replied, "I don't live in the past." I understood the answer, but here's what I heard him say, that he didn't literally say - "One can't afford to live with regrets. It costs too much and takes you where you don't want to go. Regret always makes it about you." The last statement is the one that got me. When we live lives avoiding regret (which is always an unknown because we are avoiding a false future that we have created with our thoughts) we are making our lives about us. A fundamental core value found in the gospel of the Kingdom is that, life is about serving others sacrificially and therefore discovering joy, contentment, and purpose. So much of the American dream is about us and therefore regret wins. Regret wins because when life is about us, we end up with feelings of sadness and disappointment. I've read articles, where people in their last days, wish they had spent more time being present with loved one, worried less, played more, read more books, gave more hugs, served other people, used their influence to better the lives of others, etc. When we work hard to avoid regret, we end up with regret. So how do we defeat regret before it overwhelms us? My 20+ year older friend gave me a few suggestions and I want to share them with you.

1. Learn from the past. We redeem the ugliness of our past by learning from it. We overcome the pain of our past by learning from it. We move past the limitations of our past by learning from it. Many of us hear the past screaming at us - "Failure. Disappointment. Don't risk it. Play it safe. Isolate. Hide. Be greedy. Self-medicate." What if the past was actually trying to teach us something and not hinder us. This requires a brave, Holy Spirit inspired, look into the past and ask Jesus - "What should I be learning from my past weeks, months and years? How do you want to use my past situations to impart into my heart wisdom, knowledge, understanding and courage, so that I lead myself and others into a more hopeful and significant future?"

2. Celebrate past victories. Your past is not 100% failure and defeat. You and I have overcome so many obstacles. We have endured some painful seasons. Sure, we have some scars and battle wounds, but we are still standing. We still have a voice even if it's a whisper; no matter how faint it is, every 'yes' is important to God and He makes note of it. Take time to celebrate past victories. One way I do it is by writing them down. That helps me get them out of the cluttered emotions of my heart and into a place where I can see them more clearly. The obstacles you have overcome are big. Therefore, take time to celebrate them. Don't rush. Rejoice in what God has done in your life. Rejoice with friends and share with others the triumphs of your life. Rejoicing gives you the fuel you need to defeat regret.

Learning from the past and celebrating past victories will disempower regret, empower us to overcome disappointment, recapture our hope and restore the beauty of our lives. You can defeat regret before it overwhelms you.

In my next journal entry, I'll share two more suggestions for defeating regret.


[1] Dictionary Application on Macbook.  Version 2.2.1 (178) Copyright © 2005–2015 Apple Inc.
All rights reserved.

[2] Proverbs 13:12

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