We should be clear about one thing, right off the bat: There is no way to be alive and avoid doing and saying foolish and even idiotic things, things you’re bound to later wish you hadn’t done and said at all.
Not being able to forgive yourself for your boneheaded, arrogant, and selfish actions is one of the biggest inhibitors to living the life God wants you to live. If you’re always dragging yourself down with the past, how is God going to lift you up in the future? It’s easy to kneel in church and hang your head, praying for God to forgive you, but you must also face what you’ve done and deal with it in a direct and forthright manner. You have to cleanse and prepare yourself so that you’ll always be as ready as possible to be the man or woman God intends you to be.
One of the most dramatic biblical examples of personal regret occurred in connection with the Bible’s most terrible event, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:
“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’
“’What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’
“So Judas threw the money into the temple and left, then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:3-5, NIV)
Most people believe Judas went to hell for his sin against the Lord. And he may have – we won’t know on this side of heaven. Even though he did just about the most awful thing anyone has ever done, we have no place judging Judas than we do anyone else. The job of ultimately judging anyone belongs to God alone.
Nonetheless, from the passage above we can see clearly that after his evil deed, Judas’s attitude about what he’d done changed a great deal. Soon thereafter he fell on his knees, desperately despondent over his eager choice; he was “seized with remorse.” He was so distraught over his deliberate betrayal of Jesus that the only way he could think to end his suffering was by ending his own life.
What happened to Judas? How did he go from being a craven opportunist to being consumed by burning remorse? How did he go from wanting only money to being utterly desperate to possess what money can’t buy? What changed in the man?
What changed in Judas is the same thing that needs to change in any of us seeking to come to terms with past regrets and learn how to avoid creating new ones: perspective.
At first Judas’s perspective was, “What’s best for me? What can I do that most benefits me? Who can I come out ahead?” He didn’t care who got hurt on his way to self-satisfaction; he just wanted to know what he had to do to get what he wanted.
But that sure wasn’t his perspective after he saw the results of what he’d done. Suddenly his tragically limited, shamefully selfish perspective became markedly broadened. With the force of a piano being dropped, Judas realized he hadn’t been looking at a picture anywhere near big enough.
Put simply, perspective is everything. In my work at New Life, I’m made aware every day that the perspective people have on their problems is easily the most deciding factor on how effectively they’ll be able to deal with them. In fact, I largely think of my mission as helping people to broaden their perspective. Take anyone with a problem. I want to show them the value of changing their perspective from one in which they’re the center and star of the universe to one in which they realize that their world does, or should, revolve around the Son.
When assessing and evaluating a situation that led to your present regret, imagine yourself back in it – and then try to see the whole of what happened not through your eyes but through God’s. Meditate on bringing the peace of the Holy Spirit to the situation that ultimately concluded so poorly. Picture yourself back with that other person in the relationship, and then lift your perspective so that it rises above the two of you here on earth. Strive, in other words, for a heavenly perspective from above.
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3, NIV)
Practice that – employ it when looking back on your regretful behaviors – and you’ll be well on your way to feeling better about things you might have thought you could never feel comfortable with at all.
Adapted from Regret-Free Living: Hope For Past Mistakes and Freedom From Unhealthy Patterns by Stephen Arterburn, © 2009 Stephen Arterburn, Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group.