Walk into a room full of adults and ask how many have done or said something they now regret in the last week, and you’ll probably find a majority admitting to a phrase or action they would’ve avoided in hindsight. As imperfect creatures living in an imperfect world, regret is unavoidable. Whether it’s a life-altering situation like losing your life’s savings on a risky investment, or something seemingly inconsequential, like taking a wrong turn or sending a hasty email, regrettable choices usually result in undesirable consequences. Mercifully, most times, those consequences aren’t severe. But there are occasions when our regrettable choices become life-defining. Those situations are challenging and may require us to deal with realities we never anticipated.
We all handle regrets in different ways. Some people have paradigms which help them compartmentalise regrettable choices and carry on with daily demands, while others facing similar situations would be overwhelmed and crippled by it. I’d suggest that how we handle regrets significantly impacts our life experiences and relationships. Many of us have read stories of people who turned to alcohol, violence, or solitude after a regrettable decision or accident because they couldn’t face reality afterwards. Conversely, we’ve also read stories of people who have rebuilt their lives after a fall from grace. If you’re anything like me, you probably beat yourself up when you do something regrettable. You may also replay the steps that led up to your decision – berating yourself and wondering how you could get it so wrong. Sometimes, I even blame myself for situations outside my control. Such a disposition is clearly unhealthy.
Have you ever examined how you end up with regrets? Admittedly, we live in a broken world which implies we’ll occasionally find ourselves in regrettable positions through no fault of ours. But often, our choices put us there. I find that hubris and ignorance play a significant role in my regrets. Disaster is usually not far behind whenever I become too confident in my abilities and forget that I’m fallible [Proverbs 16:18]. An oft-repeated truism is “hindsight is 20:20”. That maxim should remind us that we’ve got areas of ignorance in our lives, and wisdom dictates that we should never stop learning because ignorance often leads to regrettable decisions [Proverbs 4:7]. Occasionally, we end up with regrets because we wilfully violate a divine principle, ordinance, or instruction or because we didn’t have the courage to make the right decision. One aspect of knowing ourselves is understanding the situations at the root of our regrettable choices, so we can address them.
There are several stories of heroes of the faith making regrettable choices in Scripture. One that stands out to me because of the curious surrounding circumstances is David, in a prideful moment, ordering a census of his armies [2 Samuel 24]. It was a decision that cost David and his people dearly [2 Samuel 24:10-15]. Two things are evident in that story: First, our actions carry consequences. Sometimes, those consequences may affect others, especially those under our care. As such, we must be diligent with our decisions, particularly when in positions of responsibility over others. The second thing evident is God’s compassion. David had a revelation of God’s mercies. So, when given a choice between consequences meted out by man or God, David chose to receive his punishment from God because His mercies are great [2 Samuel 24:14]. Our God always finds ways to restore the prodigal child [2 Samuel 14:14].
Scripture’s exposition of God’s mercy is a revelation we must cling to dearly as fallen creatures. Where would we be if God wasn’t merciful? Without a doubt, the man with the greatest regret had to be Adam. He had intimacy with God that no human being on this side of eternity could ever understand, and he lived in a place with no suffering, pain or death. He was at peace with his surroundings and in harmony with every creature within it. Then, with one regrettable decision, he lost it all. Imagine the incomparable torment Adam must have felt in the months and years after he was expelled from the Garden of Eden. We continue to experience the consequences of his choice today, but imagine what it must have been for those who met Adam. Imagine his pain as he tried to explain what the Garden was like to his children.
I suspect that Adam’s perspective of that fateful decision is different today. The Exsultet, a song at Mass during the Easter Vigil, calls Adam’s sin a happy fault because of what God did through Jesus to redeem the situation for all of us [John 3:16]. The idea is that Adam’s regrettable choice revealed how much God loves us. What was true for Adam is also true for us today: God’s love for us is infinitely greater than our regrets! The devil knows this, but do we? Or do we allow him to deceive us into frustration and despair? Who told you your situation is irredeemable? Who says you have to live in regret when there’s a God who specialises in impossible situations? Who says the circumstance you’re so ashamed of today cannot become a footnote in your testimony tomorrow?
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews points out what we’re to do with our regrets: We’re to take them to God’s throne of grace because we will receive mercy and find help in our times of need [Hebrews 4:14-16]. We can do this because Jesus understands what it means to be human; he knows we’re frail and prone to regrettable choices, but He’s ever ready and willing to redeem and restore [1 John 1:8-9]. So, don’t wallow in self-pity and hopelessness; hand your regret over to Jesus and watch Him transform it into a happy fault.