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“Nope, I have no regrets” he remarked to me. “I see everything as a learning experience that gets me to where I am now.”

I remember looking at my friend for a while. I remember thinking he comes from a completely different planetary system than me. I remember wondering if that could be really true.

Because I have regrets. I have regrets about whole seasons of my life. There are times that I look back on and cringe. There are times where I feel like my heart was dark, and hard. And small. And when your heart is dark and sad, when it’s brittle and small, it’s not functioning very well. When your heart feels small, no matter what got it there, it tends to turn on others. It views people with suspicion rather than grace. A broken heart that tries to fix itself usually puts the parts back all wrong. That heart gets dysfunctional. It works but not very well, and most of the time it misdirects its passions and energy to all the wrong places.

I’ve had a heart like that, and I regret it. When my heart felt like that, I was confined by my own desires.

It reminds me of being sick. You know when you have a fever, and the covers feel so heavy, and whatever your body needs, you just feel like you are going to DIE if you don’t have that thing right now. You are so sick that you just have to respond with instinct–so the covers go on, and then you kick them off. You need water, but then it’s too cold. You want toast, and then you don’t. The couch feels good, and then it feels bad. Your bed is good, and then it’s not. Your pillow is too hot. Your feet are too cold. You do anything and everything to try and make yourself feel better. You just act on instinct–you act out of that pain.

I regret seasons of acting out of pain. People get hurt and things get confusing. It reminds me of Psalm 73:21-22, which says

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant.”

Seriously. A grieving heart, a bitter heart–it leads to senseless acts. It leads to ignorant choices. And even though I live in grace, even though I know forgiveness, I will always regret times that I thought and acted and felt out of my own sorrowful and bitter heart.

We don’t do each other any favors when we aren’t honest about stuff like that. And since now I’m like a “professional” in ministry, I feel even more of a burden to be honest about my own stuff like this. It hasn’t always been happy times over here in Jesus-land. And it still isn’t. I feel more and more each day my own deep limitations. I know I have my own ways that I can screw it all up when I stomp forward in my own plans.

But I believe there are more of us who live with regret than there are who think all of it’s happy, regret-free trails.

All of us have hurt people.

All of us have acted out of our own pain.

All of us have made unintentional, stupid choices and intentional, selfish choices.

If you can relate to that, if you know what it feels like to have regret–regret over little ways you acted yesterday and big ways you acted years ago, then the question isn’t “do I have regrets?”

The real question is “what will I do with regrets?”

Here’s where it does get good. Psalm 73 goes on to say,

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

How good is that? God promises that in the midst of our regret, here’s what He’ll do.

He’ll be with you.

He’ll guide you.

He’ll give you his glory.

He’ll strengthen you.

He’ll provide for you.

In the midst of the pain of our own failing, God is there. In the truth of our own selfishness, God is there. He doesn’t just hide it under the rug. Jesus Christ was obedient to his death in order to make things right for us. Everything we’ve done, is undone on the cross. But God doesn’t let us forget or tell us to stuff it away. We remember it. We know it. We are familiar with our own condition because it helps us remember that “earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

It’s only in coming up empty in our own choices that we recognize the good in His choices. It’s in our regrets and failures that we experience the refreshment found only in Jesus, our living water. It’s in our weakness that we feel ourselves carried by his grace.

So do I live with regrets? Yes. I live with them as a reminder, that I want to have this limited, weak, wandering heart bound to Him. I want to be caught up so tight in his embrace that I can’t take a step in the wrong direction without feeling his guiding hand leading me back. That’s what I want. And my regrets help get me there, help keep me there. And his love has me saying “thank you, thank you” every single day.

Tell him about your regrets. Tell him about the way you’ve tried to fix your own broken heart. And then ask for Him. Ask for his presence, his comfort, his guidance, his truth. Drink from the living water, my friend. And truly–you’ll never be thirsty again.