And, of course, it is very good if a man has received wealth from the Lord and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and to accept your lot in life—that is indeed a gift from God. The person who does that will not need to look back with sorrow on his past, for God gives him joy. Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 (TLB)
I love to laugh. I love to look for spectacular things that others are doing and calling them out. Encouragement is so easy when you are seeing great things going on around you in the people you know and love. But what about when things are not going so well? What if you have made a mistake? How do you move forward then? How do you live a life of no regrets?
If you have never made a mistake in your life, you can probably stop reading here. If you just sat down with a fresh cup of coffee and have nothing better to do, but still fall into the “I’ve never made a mistake in my life” category, feel free to keep reading. For the rest of us, I hope that reading this post will bring some relief. I pray that you find encouragement on how to move forward from past mistakes.
A few weeks ago, I chatted with a mom who had decided to homeschool her children. In our conversation, I remarked that I had never regretted my choice to homeschool my children. I’d questioned it at times. I’d made sure that I was hearing clearly from the Lord about that choice. But I felt no regrets about homeschooling.
My eldest son has now graduated and is attending a local technical college. Looking back on the years I spent with him one-on-one causes no feelings of regret at all. There are many things in my past that I wish I could go back and do differently. Yes, many. Homeschooling my boys just isn’t one of them.
I don’t know that there is a worse feeling in this world than the pain of regret. Our minds can feel absolutely tormented if we have thoughts like “what if I had only” or “I wish I had” playing on repeat as we think about various life experiences. Regret is defined as “to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.); to think of with a sense of loss: pain or distress in the mind at something done or left undone” (regret, n.d.). Even reading that definition makes me feel rather disgruntled in my heart! No one wants to feel the pain of regret. Knowing that, I doubt there is one person on the face of the earth today who has not felt regret about something in their life.
It is human nature to try to avoid pain. Some pains are beneficial. Pain may help us achieve goals we have set. It may keep us from further damage to our bodies or to others. But the pain of regret is one that we typically want to sidestep. And while none of us want to make regrettable decisions, few experience a life of no regrets. An article in Psychology Today states, “Regret is the second-most common emotion people mention in daily life . . . and it’s the most common negative emotion” (Grierson, B., 2017).
The youth pastor at my church signs his emails “No Reserves, No Returns, No Regrets” (E. Hidalgo, personal communication, May 9, 2018). That isn’t a shabby motto by which to live. Wouldn’t it be great if, at the end of our lives, we were able to look back and say that we had no regrets? And yet, so many people experience this painful emotion. Psychologist Amy Summerville, in an article in National Public Radio (2017) states that it is repeatedly thinking over events that tend to bring about the most negative feelings. She states:
Rumination is having thoughts spring unwanted to mind and we’re chewing them over without actually getting anything new out of them, they’re just repeatedly, intrusively, becoming part of our mental landscape. What we’ve found is that people who have ruminative regret, tend to be the people who are experiencing the most negative outcomes. (Perkins, L., Boyle, T., Klahr, R., Vedantam, S., & Cohen, R., 2017)
Picture this – imagine that you are visiting me near my house in the country. We are taking a walk down a dirt road near a green, grassy field. The wind is blowing lightly, causing the grasses to dance in the breeze, and a neighbor’s cows are standing around chewing.
We stop and enjoy the pastoral scene. It’s quiet, but as we study the cows we are thinking that they should have swallowed that bite and taken another by now. I can imagine laughter as we mimic their chewing motions.
The Webster Dictionary describes the root of the word ruminate as coming from the Latin word “ruminari” which “in turn derives from ‘rumen,’ the Latin name for the first stomach compartment of ruminant animals (that is, creatures like cows that chew their cud)” (Ruminate, n.d.). While we don’t spend a great deal of time chewing our food, cows do. In fact, Webster states, “Literal rumination may seem a little gross to humans, but to cows, chewing your cud (that’s partially digested food brought up from the stomach for another chew) is just a natural part of life” (n.d.).
There are things in life about which it is good to ruminate. Thinking over the great things God has done in your life, success, dreams, meditating on the Word and things He has whispered to you as you’ve listened in prayer. These are all healthy, productive ruminations. Some thoughts, however, are best forgiven and forgotten. Learn what you can from these negative experiences and then move on. Don’t waste time regretting what you can do nothing about.
Scripture has a lot to say about how to deal with regrets. God knew we wouldn’t always make perfect decisions, and we’d need to have a way to clean up our messes and get back on track! This is where I want to focus. This is how to live with no regrets! While there is great wisdom we can glean from brilliant minds, there is no better source than the Word of God with which to hold as the standard for our decisions.
First, let me say that when we make a mistake, we need to ask for forgiveness if our actions affected anyone else negatively. In a letter to the church of Macedonia, Paul writes to tell them that he had previously written them some harsh corrections that he later regretted. Yes, even Apostle Paul had regrets! But he states that he didn’t regret the letter now because by calling them out on some things they needed to be better about, it had caused them to adjust their lives so that they were now living in the way that they should. In 2 Corinthians 7:19, he states “Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret” (MEV).
Seeking forgiveness when we have made a mistake causes regret to fall away. We first need to ask forgiveness from the Lord. The good news there is that going to God for forgiveness of our sinful choices has only one result – forgiveness! 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (MEV).
Now don’t think that you can just do whatever you please, hurting other people, and thinking you will have no consequences for your behavioral choices. That just isn’t the case. In fact, there is another stipulation to receiving forgiveness. You can’t expect God to forgive you if you don’t forgive other people. It is a command to forgive – a choice we need to make. Matthew 6:14-15 reads, “For if you forgive men for their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men for their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins” (MEV).
To be clear, there is no limit on how many times we should even forgive the same person of the same mistake. Jesus said, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22, MEV). That is a lot of forgiveness, but what a weight we release when we release others. Living a life of forgiveness puts you on the path to a life of no regrets.
There is a common expression that is derived from a 1938 book by Emmet Fox. In Fox’s book, he states that drinking poison with the intent to protect yourself from others is pointless as there is no “doubt who will actually receive the benefit of the poison” (Fox, 1938). The more common expression I know has been credited to many different people with a variety of negative topics, but I’ve heard as “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” The only person hurt by holding a grudge, rehearsing past wrongs, or hanging on to anger and resentment is the person doing the holding. You are much better letting those negative emotions go, forgiving, and moving on. The person who is really freed is you.
Forgiving others doesn’t mean that you are saying that what someone did to you was right; it doesn’t excuse their behavior. It doesn’t mean that what you did to someone else was right when you ask for forgiveness, either. Instead, forgiving the wrongs others have done to you keeps their behavior from hurting your heart further. Lewis Smedes (1984) wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner is you” (p.133). But the choice to forgive is yours alone to make – choose to have no regrets.
Learn And Move On
The second thing that I wanted to address about having no regrets once you have sought or chosen forgiveness if needed, is to learn from your mistakes and then put them behind you. When I was growing up, I did a lot of cooking with my mom. She is an excellent cook and I enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with her.
One day, I was pulling a hot dish from the oven. I was so focused on not burning my hands through the potholder that I wasn’t paying enough attention to where the top of my hand was. The knuckle of my pinky finger contacted the oven rack. There is still a light scar from that mistake, but I learned to be a whole lot more careful when pulling something from the oven and am that much closer to having no regrets in the kitchen!
Sometimes You Win
I’ve often heard the expression, “sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” In fact, author John Maxwell has written a book by the same title. I prefer not to learn the hard way, but if I go through something hard, I surely hope I learn something from it! Once you’ve learned something, hold onto the lesson but then move forward. Don’t keep rehearsing the negative experience – that is counterproductive!
Psychologist Amy Summerville had mentioned that choosing to mull over negative events produces negative feelings (2017). Therefore, we must choose to stop. Philippians 3:13 reads, “Brothers, I do not count myself to have attained, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (MEV). That same passage in The Message reads:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back (Philippians 13:12-14, MSG).
The Passion Translation ends verse 13 by saying, “I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead” (TPT).
Choose To Focus
Choosing to put things behind you doesn’t give you amnesia. But as you work through the decision and process of forgiveness, learn from the past, and focus on the positive, the sting of regret fades. Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. See, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not be aware of it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” (MEV).
What does it look like to have a river in the desert? It looks unnatural. In fact, it looks supernatural, because only God can cause a lush, thriving, flowing river to spring up from a dry, lifeless wasteland. Acts 3:19 reads, “And now you must repent and turn back to God so that your sins will be removed, and so that times of refreshing will stream from the Lord’s presence” (TPT). Living a life free from the pain of regret is attainable by turning to God, repenting for any wrong you’ve done, and then moving forward in refreshing relationship with the One who loved you enough to lay His life down for you before you were even born.
Live Life with No Regrets!
There are multitudes of quotes sharing how to live without regrets. Most are serious and thought-provoking. I believe the reason for this is because it is such a serious and real emotion that most experience at some point in life. But we can choose to forgive the past, learn what you can from it, and focus on a more positive future. Don’t look back – live life with no regrets!
If this has encouraged you, consider purchasing the author’s book, Believing for a Miracle.
Fox, E. (1938). The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life. New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap.
Grierson, B. (2017, October 31). The Meaning of Regret. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from Psychology Today
Perkins, L., Boyle, T., Klahr, R., Vedantam, S., & Cohen, R. (2017, September 11). Why We Can’t Shake Life’s ‘Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’ Moments. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from NPR
Regret. (n.d.). Retrieved September 4, 2018, from Dictionary.com
Ruminate. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2018, from Merriam-Webster
Smedes, L. (1984). Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve. New York, NY: HarperCollins