Regrets follow us, haunt us, and accuse us so that they become defining moments in our lives that we can’t move beyond.
If only I had responded with grace instead of judgment. If only my grandparents could have raised me. If only I hadn't lost my temper with my kids. If only I had finished my degree. If only I hadn't been so imprisoned by insecurity and self-worthlessness.
“If only” can crush hopes, steal peace, prevent forgiveness, and trap us in negative patterns of behavior. Regret is the second most frequently mentioned emotion after love. And most people express regret in relationships, careers, or missed opportunities.
But God redeems and restores our regrets. He makes a way when there seems to be no way. He enables us to move past what keeps us bound, and he works our regrets into growth for us.
But how do we overcome them? How do we move past our “if-only” mantras into a life of abundance?
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read that Jesus became all our sin so that we might become all of God’s righteousness. This verse trumps any and all regrets that we hold in our hearts due to sin that we commit, the pain inflicted by someone else’s sin, and the troubles of life.
I struggle with areas of pride that keep me separated from God, and I deal with wounds from other people’s choices along with life’s disappointments that cause me to cry, “If only” and long another outcome.
The following are 10 biblical truths to help you overcome your if-only regrets.
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1. Receive Forgiveness
To experience forgiveness, we need to practice remembering. I usually regret the things that make me feel embarrassment or shame, and I do everything in my power to forget them. But remembering, when done biblically, brings life and healing.
God says in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just (not condemning or angry) to forgive us (he doesn’t hold it against us) and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (he wants us to succeed so he helps us).
God’s forgiveness amazes me because my nature wants to make up for my regrets instead of releasing them. Release your regret through confession and receive God’s forgiveness.
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2. Extend Forgiveness
The ease of extending forgiveness seems based on the size of the offense. We seem to rate offenses and forgive accordingly.
For example: If someone took my parking spot, forgiveness would be no problem. But if someone abused me or my children, forgiveness would be seemingly impossible. Or if a friend skipped out on a coffee date, forgiving them would require effort, but if my husband skipped out on my marriage, forgiving would be insurmountable.
And when we fail our own standards of behavior and hurt someone we love, we struggle to forgive ourselves. However, God tells us to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you,” (Colossians 3:13.) This includes your own heart, not just others. You’re forgiven, so now forgive others.
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3. Understand the Power of the Blood
There’s a mystery about God that he reveals bit by bit and situation by situation as we walk in a trusted relationship with him. Our if-only regrets can sometimes make us feel that we are unredeemable and that there is no going back, no do-overs, and no second chances. But that’s a lie from the enemy meant to keep us bound in chains and not walking in the freedom that God created for us. The power of Jesus’ blood makes us righteous before God; it enables us to receive and extend forgiveness, and it assures us of unity in the body of Christ (See: Ephesians 1:7-10).
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4. You Have Purpose
Trouble and life go together like peanut butter and jelly. We love the taste of the latter combo, but the first combo leaves a bad taste in our mouths. It’s easy to lose our way in the maze of if-only regrets. But let’s not lose sight of our purpose.
“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands,” (Psalm 138:7-8).
God does not abandon you; he preserves you for his purpose.
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5. God Makes it Good
There are times when we need to sit in sorrow with one another before we share the power of God’s word. Let’s not rush through the sorrow and pain of our regret too soon, but let’s not linger in agony and reproof too long either.
God is able to redeem your regret and he can make good come of it when you love him with your whole heart. Loving God, clinging to him, and believing him in the midst of painful regret takes the focus off ourselves and our failure and places it directly where it should be: on God.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
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6. Comfort for Others
Our painful regrets can open ourselves up to receive God’s comfort. His comfort is like basking in the sun on a chilly fall day; it soaks deep into our bones.
But the best part of knowing pain in our lives is so that we can comfort others. Nothing in God’s economy goes to waste. He is the ultimate recycler. He recycles our pain into comfort, and then sends us people to whom we can give that same comfort we received from him. Let’s extend God’s compassion and comfort to our regrets so that we can minister to others who have similar regrets. (See: 2 Corinthians 3-4)
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7. A New View on Suffering
We get lulled into thinking this Christian life should have minimal suffering, but our if-only regrets can be the pathway for God’s glory to be revealed. It’s in our sufferings where God is most revealed as we trust him, submit to him, and rely on him for strength and endurance. Our wounds are a gateway to his glory. When we fully own the pain of our regrets before our gracious Father, we identify with Christ in his sufferings and we’re strengthened just as he was.
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” 1 Peter 4:13.
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8. Boundless Grace
By their very nature, regrets are things we wish hadn’t happened. Either we failed, someone failed us, or life failed us and we’re desperate for help. We think that if we extend or receive grace that we’re approving what we desperately wish didn’t happen. But grace isn’t like that.
Grace isn’t a blanket of approval of pain or sin or bad choices. It’s a releasing of our pain in order to receive the strength to walk with God through it.
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).
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9. Own Your Identity
Holding onto our if-only regrets silences the truth of our identity in Christ. What we do flows from who we are, but what we do doesn’t define who we are. What happens to us affects us, but it doesn’t have to dictate who we become. We are defined by God. According to Ephesians, we’re chosen, holy, beloved, blameless, redeemed, and forgiven. Silence the enemy’s voice by claiming your identity the next time he uses your if-only regrets against you. Own your mistakes, pain and disappointments, but don’t be defined by them.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding," (Ephesians 1:3-8).
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10. Walk in Freedom
God didn’t set us free to walk this life bound by regrets we wish we could do over or wouldn’t do at all. Those bind us to the past in a negative way. They keep us looking back in sorrow rather than using them as reminders of God’s faithfulness and steadfastness towards us. We make the choice to stand firm in the freedom, that our belief in God provides, so that we can walk into victory.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1).
I have a laundry list of things I regret, but I have a greater list of who God is, what he’s done for me, and who I am in him. My regrets are not my measuring stick; he is. He leads me into right living through conviction and cleansing by his word, which includes freeing me from if-only regrets.
Place your trust in him and apply these biblical principles to your if-only regrets. You’ll find they lose their power over your life and you’ll be able to walk forward in hope and victory.
Jessica Van Roekel is a woman on the journey to wholeness through brokenness. She believes that through Christ your personal histories don’t have to define your present or determine your future. Her greatest desire is to see you live this “God-life” with all the power and grace that God provides. Jessica lives in a rural community with her husband and four children. She leads worship on Sundays, but seeks to be a worshiper every day. You can connect with her at www.welcomegrace.com and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/yourJessicaVanRoekel.
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Originally published Monday, 22 October 2018.