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Speaking about regret. . .
A woman awoke during the night to find that her husband was not in bed. She put on her robe and found him sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. He appeared to be in deep thought, just staring at the wall. She saw him wipe a tear from his eye and take a sip of his coffee. “What’s the matter dear?” she asked.
“Do you remember twenty years ago when we were dating at the age 16?”
“Yes, honey, I do,” she replied.
“Do you remember when your father caught us kissing in your basement?”
“Yes, I remember that like it was yesterday,” she blushes.
“Do you remember when he shoved that shotgun in my face and said, ‘Either you marry my daughter or spend twenty years in jail?’”
“Yea, I remember that too, what are you getting at?” she said.
He wiped another tear from his cheek and said, “You know, I would have gotten out today.”
Last week, we reminded ourselves that regrets cause us to be unhappy. I talked about some action steps we could take in order to deal with past regrets. I also told you that today I would spend some time talking about what we can do in the present to avoid piling up regret in the future.
If you google this subject, you will see that there are many articles that have been written on this subject from different perspectives offering advice that is beyond the scope of our time today and covering things that are beyond the realm of my expertise. Many of them come from the Self-Help/Psychology ilk and offer such advice as Follow Your Dream, Trust Your Gut, Take Risks, Take Life Less Seriously, Be Yourself in order to avoid future regret. And while all of these have merit, and a Christian connection, I need to stick to the kind of advice that comes from a Biblical perspective. I offer four Biblical prescriptions that will help us avoid regret down the road.
Turn “mistakes” into stepping stones.
I know this sounds like last week’s advice; attempting to learn from past regrets and applying that knowledge to a preferred future as did the Apostle Paul. But today I am referring to current mistakes we may be making.
For example, in an article on the website, Beliefnet, Therese Borchard, writes:
Perhaps the best way to deal with regret is to change behaviors you can. It’s like the Serenity Prayer says: accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and try your best to distinguish between the two. I can think of about 50 parenting mistakes right now that I’m agonizing about. Try as I might, I can’t peel them off of the anxious part of my brain. So I’m trying to categorize them and see what changes in my parenting style might render better results. 1
Everybody makes mistakes! Mistakes made are often the fuel for future regret. But as soon as we recognize the mistake, rather than beat ourselves up over it we should take the time to analyze it to see what we can learn and how we might parlay the mistake into a preferred future thus minimizing future regret.
Paul writes the Ephesians: “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
You probably have heard that old Thomas Alva Edison failed 1000 times before he succeeded in creating the light bulb. But each time he failed, he didn’t look at those failures as regrets but used failure to fuel a preferred future.
In fact, we shouldn’t even categorize the kind of events we are talking about as mistakes or failures because that only leads to them becoming regrets. If we recognize that our parenting skills need to improve then we need to thank God that we are able to see it that way and become better parents!
If you have perfectionistic tendencies, let them go!
I don’t know if you have ever thought about this or not, but people who are perfectionists are going to have more regrets than those who are not . . . period!
Beazley Hamilton has written a book titled, No Regrets, A Ten-Step Program for Living in the Present and Leaving the Past Behind. The book is written from a three-fold perspective: Psychological research, a Christian perspective, and the 12 Step principles. When it comes to perfectionism, he writes:
When we insist on being perfect or nearly perfect, we will be tortured by regrets over our mistakes and misjudgments. We repeatedly revisit the circumstances of our regrets to “make them right” in our heads or to berate ourselves for the errors that exposed our imperfection. “If only . . .” we plead with ourselves and reimagine the regret with the outcome we wanted. Or we mutter, “why, why?” condemning ourselves for our stupidity, our carelessness, or our forgetfulness. We can’t bear to accept our mistake and let it go. Such a course of action would require an admission of imperfection that is too painful to accept. Some of us are more demanding of perfection than others, and the most demanding of us are also the most impaired and the most pained. 2
I was reading about a woman named Janice who is very proud of her home. She spends hours each day cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting. It makes her feel good when visitors comment what a beautiful home she has. But her children resent her because they are not allowed to invite friends over because mom is so paranoid about messing up the carpet.
Janice is a Martha who was so busy cooking and cleaning that she lost out on a chance to be with Jesus. (Luke 10:41-42)
Has anyone ever lived a perfect life? No human being who has ever lived has gone to the grave with a perfect record. I know we all know that, but the truth is those with perfectionistic tendencies admit that being perfect is impossible, but at the same time continue to behave as if it were possible.
Now to go further down this road today is beyond my capabilities. And some of you are thinking oh way to go, preacher, point out the problem but don’t give us any advice. My advice is to buy Hamilton’s book!
If at all possible don’t bring your work home with you.
Earning a living is very important, but if all we do is work, then we are taking time away from other more important aspects of living. Like hanging out with loved ones . . . enjoying hobbies and other important to you and therefore meaningful activities. Remember from last week one of the top five regrets that dying people have is that they worked too much. When we reach the end of our lives, we will not be thinking I should have worked more. Do you believe that?
What are we going to do about it? I know today’s work world is changing dramatically as more and more people work from home. But there’s a huge danger in that.
The wisest man who ever lived knew about this 3,000 years ago.
What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Ecclesiastes 2:22-25)
Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)
It is not the work that matters, but the people we love.
Strive to live out the fruit of the spirit.
Doesn’t it make sense that the more “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) we exhibit the fewer regrets we will have?
For example, has there ever been a time in your life when you said something to someone and as soon as the words came out you wished you could gather them all back again? And then what? Then we begin to regret what we said.
But if we had at that moment been operating under the influence of the Holy Spirit?
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
I don’t need to remind you that the Spirit will fall afresh on those who continue in the Big Three: word, prayer, worship. That’s why I said, “strive to live the fruit of the Spirit.”
Here’s a principle of Christian living: the more consistently we practice godly Christian living, the fewer regrets we will accumulate to our account. And the result will be more peace and happiness in our lives and glory to God.
2 Beazley, Hamilton. No Regrets: A Ten Step Program for Living in the Present and
Leaving the Past Behind. [Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., © 2004] page 82.