Giving Up Regret For Good - Philippians 3:12-14 - Wednesday Night Reflection
I know it has happened more than once in our twenty-four years of marriage…it probably happens more often than I even know. I know it has happened within the last week. Sometimes it happens when I am tired. Sometimes it happens when I am frustrated with something I am working on. Sometimes it just happens because I have a “Y” chromosome. Maybe I could blame anything from the past week on the flu. What happens is that Anita and I are talking, and I open my mouth and say something, and I immediately wish that I could take those words back. I love Anita dearly, and yet sometimes I find myself saying things that are hurtful or cutting or simply uncaring. It’s not that I say them because I am intentionally trying to be mean or hurt her, I immediately regret saying them. I completely understand what Paul is talking about when he tells the church in Rome, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”[i] Most of the time I am immediately try to follow those thoughtless words or comments with an apology (when I’m smart enough to realize I’ve said something hurtful), and maybe even plan a trip to pick up the items for her favorite meal, even after she’s forgiven me.
There are other regrets that are not so easy to deal with—ones we can’t find absolution from with a bowl of chicken and dumplings and a pot of boiled okra. Those are the regrets that can be life changing and they are the ones we tend to hang on to. Maybe it was the decision to pursue one career over another. Maybe it was a one-night stand. Maybe it was a decision not to finish school. Maybe it was falling off the wagon after years of sobriety. Maybe it was verbally or physically lashing out in anger at someone close to you in a way that leaves permanent emotional or even physical scars. Maybe it was the decision to go further into debt for a new car when the old one was working just fine. Maybe it was the decision to choose one doctor over another or one course of treatment over another. Maybe it is something completely different.
Regret is not necessarily a bad thing. Without regret, we would not realize that there are things we have done that we could have or should have done differently. We wouldn’t feel sorry for the wrong things we have done. Without regret we may never realize that we need to apologize or make amends for a wrongdoing. Without regret, we may never realize the need to drop down to our knees and seek forgiveness from God for the sins we have committed.
Unfortunately, though, there are times where we let regret control our lives. We choose to live with regret as our constant companion. We dwell on those decision made in the past—the sins we have committed, the wrong decisions or choices we made, though while not being sins, brought about negative consequences—and we let those things dictate our whole lives now. We choose to live constantly bound to or in the past. It is when we choose to live with regret rather than moving beyond it, that we have a problem.
What do I mean?
For instance, if we dropped out of school and later realize the major impact it is having on our life, we regret making that decision. We can choose to live with that regret, always complaining about how we can never get anywhere. We can complain about all the job opportunities we’ll never have. We can always feel bad about that choice and let it bring us down the rest of our lives, or we can choose to move past the regret and do something about it. We can re-enroll in school. We can go to community college or some other college or university and get our GED, Bachelors, Master’s, or whatever we need to do what God sets before us.
If we made the decision to get drunk or get high after years of sobriety, we can live with that regret and figure it is no use trying to do anything different and spend day after day pouring those things into our bodies in an attempt to numb us to the reality of what we’ve done. On the other hand, we can let that regret spur us to seek help, join an AA or an NA group or another similar recovery group, or if we’ve been part of one, we can call our sponsor and start a new age of sobriety today.
If we chose one career over another, or even over a calling that God may have been placing on our lives, we can choose to live in that regret, being miserable in whatever we are doing and feel trapped in what seems like a dead-end job. We could, though, move past regret and realize that God will let us out of the belly of the fish and give us the opportunity to do what He has created us to do.
Then there’s the regret of those sins that we let haunt us—one night stands, illicit relationships, violent attacks or responses, theft, betrayal, or worse. We can choose to live with the regret and feel that we are always unworthy, unloved, and forever condemned—we can choose to feel stuck on a road destined for Hell. On the other hand, we can let that regret spur us to repentance, and realize that there is nothing that we have done that the blood of Christ cannot cleanse us from.
My brothers and sisters, Paul knew what it meant to make bad decisions. He knew what it meant to sin when he knew what was right. Paul knew what it meant to regret his decisions. Imagine, though, if he had chosen to live with regret, to live stuck by the fact that he had taken part in the stoning of Stephen and the abuse or even death of other Christians. Paul did not, though. Rather than live with regret, bound to his past, he opened his life up to the life renewing, life changing, life giving grace of God and live with hope toward the future. That is why Paul writes: “It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.”[ii]
My brothers and sisters, let us regret our mistakes and sins, let us confront and acknowledge them, and then let us receive the grace of God, leaving the regrets in the past and nailed to the cross, that we may live redeemed lives striving for the goal of being made perfect in love through Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.