With increasing speed, another year has come and gone. With that comes the natural impulse toward reflection and the measuring up of ourselves against the resolutions we kept with varying success. We applaud ourselves for making progress, and beat ourselves up over our failures or backtracking. And so we find ourselves perhaps regretting certain decisions - or maybe our indecision - wishing we could go back and do it all over again.
If we focus on our regret, we’ll find ourselves stuck in guilt and shame without being able to move forward. So how do we move past our regrets?
Regret can pile up fast. We wish we had done this, or we wish we hadn’t done that. We begin to fear the consequences of the past and start to condemn ourselves instead of handing it all over to God. We forget Christ’s words to us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
We seem to prefer holding on to the heavy load and attempting to manage it all ourselves.
And it hits again: regret. When I glance at my university diploma and see the blank space that could have read “Cum laude” if only I had taken those one or two courses more seriously. Regret. When I wish that I had visited my aunt more than once in Florida before she passed away. Regret. When I remember any number of missed opportunities.
I have a choice to make when I notice this piling up of regrets. I can keep holding on to it all, trying to balance everything, or I can offer it up to God instead. When I bring my regret to Christ, and ask Him to take away my fears and frustrations, I am committing my whole life to Christ instead of commiting my life to myself.
This doesn’t come easily, that’s for sure. Pride and ego makes us think it’s easier to just do things alone and insist on solving all problems on our own. Somehow it seems harder to ask for help and to let Jesus have some hand in our lives. But when we do rely on God more than ourselves we find that we don’t struggle as much with anxiety and fear; we have a God who gives us direction, peace, and strength to face any struggle. We can begin to rely on Him in our daily prayers as we ask God to guide our day in the morning and thank Him for the day in the evening. It takes practice to give our regrets up to God, but it’s part of living a life in repentance.
Repentance - for whatever reason - conjures up for many people an idea of self-deprecation or feeling guilty. But the verb “to repent” in Greek means more simply to have a change of mind or to think differently (than before). That means that tied into repentance is the idea of reflecting on the past, but not dwelling on it. I have to know my past and accept the past as reality if I want to live differently today.
Moving past regret means offering the things we wish we had or hadn’t done up to God. But then it means having a change of mind, deciding to move forward in a different direction. Repentance is more than asking forgiveness, it’s the decision to make different choices moving forward and following up with that decision.
We don’t need to live in regret in order to live in repentance. There is a sense of a healthy regret - that we are aware of what happened and want something different for the present. But we can’t have a change of mind in the past, we can only have a change of mind in the present.
The things we regret are in the past, yet we think that somehow by worrying about our regrets we can change something. We know this makes no sense, but it doesn’t keep us from living in the past.
St. Paul gives all of us who struggle with living in the present his example to follow: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Before becoming a Christian, St. Paul had persecuted the Church and was even involved in the murder of St. Stephen (Acts 7:55-60). St. Paul knew that he couldn’t press on toward Christ if he were still living in the pain of his past. He had to first let go of what was behind him in order to pursue Christ in his present.
Yesterday is finished, and tomorrow is not yet here. We only have today. And yet we try to fill our today with regrets of yesterday or fears of tomorrow. St. Paul shows us that to keep Christ as the goal of our lives, there is work yet to be done today. If we concern ourselves with the work of straining forward and pressing on toward Christ, we won’t have time to worry about yesterday. We’ll have to let it go in order to live in the present. But it’s worth letting go of control, since it means having Christ at the very center of our lives, directing us and guiding us far better than we could have done ourselves.
Regret keeps us from moving forward. Instead of allowing regret to pile up on our shoulders, we can let Christ take its weight from us. To move past regret, we need a change of mind, a change of heart. And instead of living in the past, we can move forward in our relationship with Jesus today.
As we move into the new year, we don’t need to focus on regrets of the past. With Christ, we can find strength in our weakness, even in the things we once regretted. A new year helps us move forward, with gratitude for new opportunities, and a new chance to renew our relationships - with God and neighbor.
How has regret kept you from moving forward? What are you doing today to let Christ carry that burden for you?
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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.
Photo Credit: depositphotos