Written by Maria Michalowski
Regret: A feeling often accompanied by sadness, shame, and guilt; regret is when you wish you had done things differently in your past.
Who doesn’t have regrets? Who hasn’t kicked themselves for a missed opportunity, or an embarrassing mistake? A failed relationship. A harsh word. I don’t really need to provide a personal example to make my point, do I?
How we handle regret … that can be the tricky part. Feelings of regret can haunt us, and can be especially challenging if we live with regular reminders. Let’s try an exercise to check how you handle regret. Before you continue reading, take a moment and think of something specific that you regret. Start simple. For this exercise it doesn’t have to be a big thing. I’m sure something will quickly come to mind. It’s part of being human.
“…the pain caused you to have remorse and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have….” 2 Corinthians 7:9-10
The acrostic listed below can help you evaluate your regret, and come to terms with it in a healthy, God-honoring way.
R – Reframe: Reframing involves choosing to look at the regret in a different light using positive words – opportunity instead of failure, humility instead of shame, redirection instead of loss.
E – Examine: Make sure you’ve learned at least one lesson as you process a regret. If you don’t look for the lesson, you won’t learn from it.
G – Growth: Taking time to think before you speak, looking before you leap, or checking your gas gauge before you travel. Regrets are opportunities for growth.
R – Respond: Thinking about your regrets only goes so far. You have to take action: seek advice, make changes, ask for forgiveness, release others. Often the biggest challenge is to forgive yourself!
E – Extend: Take the opportunity to redo. Use encouraging words, be quick to ask forgiveness, say “yes” and try something different.
T – Trust: Following these steps doesn’t mean you’ll never have more regrets, but you can know that you are capable of processing your regrets in a healthy, God-honoring and effective way.
This acrostic lists UNhealthy ways that we may deal with regret. Beware – these responses tend to mask the feelings of regret, which will continue to come back up.
R – Reduce: Making light of the wrong, turning the bad feeling of regret into a joke or an unimportant thing.
E – Erase: Ignoring, trying to forget the thing you regret.
G – Gripe: Complain and focus on the facets of the regret that weren’t your fault.
R – Retort: Get angry and defensive in response to the feeling of regret.
E – Elevate: Put the regret in a positive light, “learning” from it without change or improvement.
T – Twist: Blame, deny, accuse – involving others so the focus is off of yourself.
This is not a trivial exercise. Some regrets are deep, painful, and very difficult to process. Some regrets provide no opportunity for a second chance. God does not want you to dwell on the past, or get trapped there. He gets no pleasure from the regret that you feel. If you can’t shake a feeling of regret, you need to identify who is reminding you of that. It’s not God. God delights in being the lifter of your head, and turning regrets into personal stories of His grace & mercy.
The next time you feel the shudder and shadow of regret, invite the Holy Spirit to help you process it in a healthy way. He will renew your heart and mind, and deliver you from all your fear (and regret!).
Maria Michalowski has attended Allison Park Church for 34 years, where she married her husband, Mike, and raised two children. She joined the Allison Park Church staff 10 years ago and helps to coordinate the care and support of her church family.