I'd once been lost. But somehow on the way to being found, I’d picked up the idea that my new life in Jesus had no space for my pre-Christian regrets. I perceived my lingering regrets as if they were a bad hangover from my sin, a byproduct of my troubled past. I’d been forgiven. Regret was an anchor to my past and had no place in my new life in Christ.
If I didn’t know what to do with the regrets I’d acquired before Christ, I was even more clueless about how to think about the regrets I accumulated after I’d come to faith in Jesus. Despite my best efforts to follow him faithfully, my faith was (and is!) full of growing pains and moments of clumsy regression. As a result, I’ve made choices that left a growing pile of regrets in my life. For example, my husband and I had made an impulsive and irreversible decision when I was just 27 that affected our ability to have more children. A lifelong friend was in a failing marriage, and I had dumped a load of unsolicited, rule-laden advice on her. (The “help” I gave to my friend was the equivalent of pouring undiluted bleach into her tender wounds—and it cost me a treasured relationship.) I’d gotten caught in the crossfire of some bitter church politics and felt compelled to pick a side. The cost was severed relationships with friends on the other side. My regret-filled brokenness glinted off of the jagged edges of these intractable, messy situations.
Are Regrets Sin?
I understood that if I freely confessed my sin, Jesus would forgive and purify me (). While I was grateful that I was no longer guilty in the eyes of my gracious Savior, I didn’t know what to do with the cache of regret left in the debris of consequences from my sinful choices as I walked—and stumbled—in the way of Jesus. I’d never heard believers talk about what to do with the “if onlys” we accumulate as Christians. I inferred from the silence on the subject among other Christians that perhaps believers aren’t supposed to have any regrets. Since I did have regrets, I wondered if they automatically qualified as sin too. I didn’t know what to do with my regrets, so I kept them to myself and hoped they’d fade away.
A lot of us are wrestling with unprocessed regret. A 2013 LifeWay Research study found that nearly half of those polled said they were currently dealing with the consequences of an earlier bad decision. Ed Stetzer, the President of Lifeway Research, noted that there is a golden opportunity for us in the church to care for those mired in regret: “Caring for those dealing with pain and regrets is not about fulfilling obligations or relieving guilt, as all of that has already been taken care of by Christ.” Instead, in order to provide this care to others and to ourselves, we must begin by learning to address issues of regret in an authentic, redemptive manner.