I will never forget a conversation I had with an elderly woman, she has long since passed away. She knew I was a pastor, and she shared with me that she spent a lot of time thinking and feeling badly about mistakes she had made when she was young. These were in her teens and early twenties and she was now well over eighty years old, a widow and a great grandmother. She was a really good lady and a devoted Christian, and still she was consumed with old regrets.
I asked her if she believed that God had forgiven her for what she had done and she certainly did. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). She and I were on the same page.
But still she was consumed with regrets. I have struggled with the same thing, have you?
God has given me several insights that have helped me with processing these feelings over the years that I shared with her.
One direction she had gone, was she did not feel she could forgive herself. This is some common thinking, but it is not a biblical concept. No where in the scripture does it say we are to forgive ourselves. What we are really doing is refusing to believe that God has forgiven us.
We all do some pretty stupid things when we are young. King David had that on his mind when he prayed “Do not remember the sins of my youth” (Psalm 25:7). One thought that relieves the pressure is to simply ask, “Do I really evaluate my life based on things I did before I was twenty?” I am glad that’s not the case. That provokes a roll of the eyes in all of us.
There are a couple of things to ask ourselves.
Regrets come from looking back at a stupid mistake we made with the information we now have as someone much older. We didn’t have that information then, and we made the choice based on the information we had at the time. Isn’t that right? It may have been bad information, but it was what we had. The other thing is, step outside yourself, and take a look at yourself at age nineteen, think about it a minute. Now ask yourself were you the sheer example of terminal stupid you are giving yourself, or was it not quite that bad. Maybe it was, but I bet not.
Then where we have to go is to remind ourselves of a couple things. First of all, I am not that way anymore, it has been a long time and God has forgiven me, so why do I make this forever present when it is in the past? Second, what life lessons did I learn from what happened that made me a better person? Have we thanked God for those? Stop a minute and thank Him for it. As we embrace His forgiveness it becomes a positive thing, not a regret.
There is nothing in this world that we cannot put behind us with God’s help.
“‘Come now, and let us reason together’, says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).
Fabrics in the days of the Old Testament were not what they are now. Because of the great effort involved, there was not much color in their clothing. The red dye, the scarlet was colorfast, and if you thought you were going to wash it out, it was not going to happen, once it was red, it was red. Even if our sins are “dyed in the wool”, God can wash them, and make them white as snow.
This is why regret is so bad, it is a feeling that need never be, because it was long ago forgiven, and it is not on God’s mind anymore. So neither should it be in ours.