Chapter 3 – Struggling With Regret
“If only I chose to do that, I wouldn’t be where I am now.” How often have you ever said or thought that? I believe this to be a common thought that many of us have had at some point in our life. Many of us would say when we regret something, that we are feeling sorry for choosing not to do or say something when given the opportunity to do otherwise. This is why so many of us go around saying phrases like, “live life with no regrets!” This is a nice catchphrase, but unfortunately, life seems to be full of those 50/50 decisions where things can go one way or the other based off of split-second or long thought out decisions that end up either going the way we wanted or not going the way we wanted.
There’s just no way to dodge it; inevitably, we’re going to regret doing or not doing something. The mere idea of living life with “no regrets” is a fantasy because none of us are perfect, and there is nobody that has never done or not done something they did not regret. When things don’t go the way we wanted, we find ourselves in a struggle to live with the decisions we have made. Struggling with our regrets is something I want to talk about within this series of chapters on depression.
As before, I do want to make some disclaimers before we get started. I am not an expert on the matter of regret or depression. I am talking about this subject from my own personal thoughts, opinions, and beliefs on how I have dealt with these subjects. I also believe in the Lord, and have faith in Him and scripture. Therefore, what works for me may not work for you if you do not believe in the same things as I.
Regret, as the dictionary defines it, is the disappointment we experience over something that has happened or been done. To me, I believe that both depression and regret go hand in hand. In fact, I believe that one can give birth to the other. For example, I have had times when I have been depressed and my thoughts have eventually led me down the “if only I had done things differently” road. There have been other times where I have gone down that road and found myself feeling sad, at first, but then feeling completely empty in my soul.
The soul, as I have said before, is not something that should ever be filled with wrath or completely empty. The righteousness of the Lord cannot be produced from a soul that is filled with wrath (James 1:20). The same goes for the body with a dead spirit (soul), it cannot produce the righteousness of God (James 2:26). Depression, if we allow it, can lead to a spirit that becomes broken and dead. Regret, if we allow it, can lead to a spirit that becomes clouded, broken, and dead. So, how do we deal with depression spiritually? Does scripture even provide us with an answer?
There are many times where people are filled with regret throughout scripture. In this series of chapters, I have often spoken about Elijah and could easily do so again, but let’s change it up this time around. In Numbers, there is a good showcase of regret, what it can do, and how it can harm those who become filled with regret. Let’s remember that Numbers was written in a time where the children of Israel had left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and made it to Mount Sinai – keep these things in mind as you read this scripture.
And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”
Numbers 14:2-3 NKJV
The time had now come for the children of Israel to enter into the land of Canaan (the Promised Land), yet the children of Israel was filled with regret. Joshua and Caleb had gone into the land to do some reconnaissance, and they both came back with good reports. Yet, the children of Israel were saying regretful things like, “if only we had died in the land of Egypt!” or saying, “would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”
Their regrets were coming from out of a place of fear. Out of the twelve spies that were sent into the land of Canaan, ten of the spies came back with a report that was very fearful (Numbers 13:27-28). These spies saw the land of milk and honey, but then they saw that the cities were fortified and large and that the people that dwelled in the land were strong. This fear caused the people to become regretful of following Moses, therefore God, and wishing that they had never left bondage in Egypt. The blessing was the Promise Land, but they were now choosing to miss out on the blessing.
Regret has a way of clouding our judgment and blinding us from seeing what the Lord has already done for us. Again, I want you to remember what I said about when the book of Numbers takes place. God had already done much for the children of Israel, but their regret was completely blinding them to those things and from moving forward. In fact, they’re saying that they were better off had God not done those things for them in the first place.
Many times, we think of where we are and how things could be “much better” than they are in the present. We think, “if only I had done things differently” that somehow we would not be where we are because where we are is not quite where we want to be. We forget that God has brought us from point A to point B and how much of a blessing it was for us to get from point A to point B. One of the big problems with regret is that it causes us to not be thankful for what the Lord has done for us – this does not please the Lord.
I will also point out that the “if only I had done things differently” line of thought suggests that not only did we make a mistake but that the Lord made a mistake as well. Could God really make a mistake? If God can make a mistake (fail), then He would not be a God at all. So, God does not and cannot make a mistake.
The children of Israel were suggesting that God had made a mistake in bringing them out of Egypt; we know that it was a blessing but they did not see the blessing. I really do believe that some of them felt they were fine or doing better living in bondage! Many of us reflect on the things in our past and believe that those past days were much better than the present day. This may actually be true, in the present, but there is absolutely no telling what the future will bring. I believe we are always working towards our next blessing and those blessings are all in the future.
Regret will keep you from your next blessing if you allow it to do so. The problem that many of us face is that we are too busy trying to live in the dreams of yesterday instead of moving towards the future that the Lord has for us. This, my friends, is a huge mistake and why so many of us end up missing out on blessings. Like with the children of Israel, we allow our fears of tomorrow to encourage our regret. I believe fear to be one of the biggest causes of our regrets. We fear that we’re going to keep “messing up” (failing), and so we go back to thoughts of our past when it seemed like we never messed up.
Jesus says this about our fears of tomorrow:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34 NKJV
Jesus spoke (Matthew 6:25-34) to the people’s worries (fears) of what tomorrow would or would not bring (clothing, food, etc). Jesus is essentially telling us to live in the now (the present). Fear is the spark to many of our problems, including our regrets. In His teaching, Jesus pointed out the Lord’s sovereignty over all things and how God cares for the smallest of things like the grass that many of us take for granted and trample over. Jesus said (Matthew 6:30), “if God cares for the grass, can’t you believe He will care even more for you?”
Handling our regrets, fears, and anxiety
I believe that our regrets ultimately comes from a place of our fears and anxiety for tomorrow. We want badly to always make the right decisions in our life. We wish that every decision we make in our life would lead to the best outcome 100% of the time. We fear the outcome being wrong and “what that means” for us. The greatest teachers in my life have had the same great lesson for me when it comes to worrying about messing up.
My parents taught me how to live with making mistakes and “trying again”. My band director taught me the same lesson by constantly driving home practicing what’s difficult over and over again and not worrying about messing up. We cannot let our fear of failing tomorrow drive us to continue to wish for days far gone and dreams of yesterday. We must continue to push forward because that is what faith does; it is always going forward and never moves in retreat.
For us to move forward in our faith, we have to get a better handle on our fears, anxiety, and regrets. We must first start with our fear and anxiety of tomorrow since fear helps to fuel our regret. We have already read what Jesus said about fearing tomorrow, but is there something more we can do to control our fears and anxiety?
We must truly learn to trust in the Lord. Many of the problems we have come down to our trust in the Lord. Repeatedly Jesus would say to the disciples when they could not grasp something, “You of little faith”. This means, to me, that there were parts of them that doubted or not completely trusting/believing in their faith in Him. Most of us are just like the disciples, not completely trusting in the Lord 100% of the time. We say, “I don’t know how God is going to bring me through this,” when He has already brought us through one struggle before.
Here’s a scripture that I want you to keep very close to your heart:
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Isaiah 43:1-2 NKJV
We have to become more trusting of the Lord; trusting in His will and in His way. God says that it is He who created us and formed us. God knows us very well and has been with us since before our conception in the womb (Psalm 139:1-14). God, when speaking to Israel in this passage, says to them that they are His! This same statement holds true for those that believe in Christ! Jesus says (John 10:29), that nobody is able to snatch His sheep out of His Father’s hand.
When we pass through the waters, God is with us. When we pass through the rivers, they will not overflow us. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned or scorched by the flame. Why? Because God is with you. This suddenly reminds me of what David sang when He sang that the Lord is his shepherd (Psalm 23). We give our fears of tomorrow too much power, and in doing so, we give our regrets the same kind of power.
The interesting thing about our regrets is how often we believe that if we had done or said something differently, that things would have worked out “right” or “better”. The mere suggestion of this thought is, in itself, a dream. Acceptance is something that we must also learn if we’re ever going to learn how to live with and move on from our past. Acceptance really is what this is all about, but many of us do not want to accept reality. We cannot accept that some things simply do not go the way that we want them to go.
To get back to the children of Israel, many of them could not accept that they were in the wilderness and that the Lord was now asking of them to go into a land inhabited by strong people living in their strongholds. So they complained against God and wanted to go backward instead of move forward doing something difficult/hard. Again, I want you to understand this clearly, God does not look to move backward.
Since they wanted to live in the past, in their regrets, God did not allow that generation of Israelites to inhabit the Promised Land – they didn’t get to enjoy the fullness of His blessing. The ten spies with a bad report died of a plague (Numbers 14:36-37). The Israelites, from 20 years on up, would eventually die in the wilderness as they were made to wander in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14:29, 34).
Let’s apply this lesson to us. It’s one thing to learn how to live with your regrets, but it’s another to live in your regrets. Because many choose to live in their regrets, they end up wandering around in a wilderness never progressing towards the blessing that the Lord has for them. As I preached in a sermon recently, we cannot look back if we want to move forward! If you’re struggling with your regrets, to overcome them, we must face forward and move forward.
When we do look back in reflection, let it be for learning and growth only. There is nothing wrong with looking back at past victories and failures and learning from both of them. Let us also learn to accept our decisions, accept that things can either go wrong or right and accept that the Lord always puts us in position to be blessed. We must trust in the Lord and have faith in what is ahead for us, not get hung up on what is behind.
Understand that God is not going to do anything more for you in the past – we cannot time travel and get a past blessing. God is doing something for you in the now (the present) and in the future. I encourage you to leave your regrets and come to the here and now and see what God has already done for you. Move forward so that you can receive the even greater blessing that He is working for you.