As I wrote last week, this pandemic has allowed most of us time to do things we have longed put off. Things like reorganizing closets, drawers, and garages. And as I mentioned, there are spiritual lessons that can be applied from this experience.
One I briefly touched on was holding onto stuff that no longer serves us well. In our material worlds, this includes many artifacts from our pasts. Emotionally and spiritually, we also often drag around with us memories that evoke regret. In this opportunity to reorganize our lives, I believe the Lord is giving each of us a gift to, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Regret, or its cousin shame, is a mighty tool in the hands of our enemy. He uses it to steal our joy, kill our spirits, and, in the end, destroy our souls by filling our hearts with bitterness toward ourselves and God. Full of shame, we can live our lives in an emotional and spiritual prison whose locks are secured from the inside.
There is not one of us who has lived a perfect life. (Romans 3:23) We all have done things in the past that we regret. It may have been how we treated someone, how we generally lived our lives during a certain period of our time on earth, or, in a moment, a loss of self-control which impacted our lives for years. And although we may have repented long ago, regret is often the thing we store away and carry with us wherever we go, like some heirloom passed down to us we don’t really want, but feel badly about the prospect of getting rid of it.
For the follower of Jesus, regret is something we hold onto so as not to offend our pride. We know we sinned; we repented of that sin; and to demonstrate our knowledge of the terribleness of it, we continue to regret it. If we don’t, there is a sense that we’re letting ourselves of the hook, that we’re forgetting the gravity of our sin. Perish the thought! We indeed take righteousness seriously, and are proud of it. So regret stokes our pride.
Yet, the Lord says we should not dwell on the past. Paul tells the Corinthian believers in his second letter to them, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (7:10) In other words, God has moved on and so should we. He has made our sins as white as snow. He has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west. He has chosen to forget our sins.
So, if the Lord is focusing not on what we did in the past but rather on what he is doing in our present, who are we to continue regretting what we did? He gives us permission, in fact commands us, to let it go. Our regret weighs us down and hinders our spiritual growth and freedom.
For many years, I struggled with regret. The truth entered my mind slowly over time that I was truly forgiven and God’s mercy didn’t require lifelong regret, but the distance between the mind and the heart can often be of significant length. Finally, a few years ago, my heart was able to synch up with my mind and I discarded my regret. It’s gone, but that doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t still trying to get me to take it back. It is still a temptation I have to resist from time to time.
However, as did Jesus when he was tempted, I am able to quote Scripture to break the devil’s spell. In this case, ““Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!”
And with that, I continue to live my life free of regret. You can, as well.