At 87 years old, there probably isn’t much more earthly future for me to anticipate. What I do have are memories. Lots of memories. There are many good ones, but just as many which fill me with regret and a wish for the ability to do it over. Yet, in spite of my regret, I need to put things into perspective and not dwell on the past. I need, instead, to continue to move forward in trust and hope of having learned from my failures
If you are a Christian, you know that all those cringe-making episodes originating in one’s old nature and characterized by self-will and/or just plain stupidity will have been forgiven, because they are deeply regretted and confessed. How do I know this? I know this because “…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:7-9 NIV). Just the same, the memories of broken relationships, inadvertently hurting others and shooting yourself in the foot because of not waiting on the Lord may continue to haunt you.
The evil one knows this and may use it as an opportunity to fill our minds with doubt, self-pity, and even self-hatred. It is then that we need to remember how much we are loved by God, and keep our focus on Him. If we have been conscientious followers of Christ and are filled with all these regrets, we also may need to remember that no matter how much we would like to live perfect lives because of our love for Him, He knows we can’t be perfect. We can only do our best with what we understand at the time, and be in willing submission. From the vantage point of extreme old age I can tell you that we never get to the place where we know it all. We are always learning, no matter how old we are, or even how spiritual we may think ourselves to be. None of us has even scratched the surface of the character of God. We are feeble creatures at best, and this makes His great love for us all the more astonishing.
I think all of us may need to be reminded at times that human wisdom is learned, not a given. There is a process called maturing which must be taken into consideration. You don’t expect a five year old to have the same ability to make good choices as a you expect of an adult. There is a lack of experience, a lack of knowledge about how things work, that limits a child’s responses to circumstances. In the Christian life, it is the same. A new Christian is not going to have the same understanding as someone who has known the Lord for many years and has learned a great deal not only about the Lord, but about herself. Learning is a trial and error kind of process. We do something, and our actions have consequences. We may choose in future not to do the same things because we didn’t like the consequences, or it may turn out that the consequences were positive, and we realize that this is an action which can be repeated. We observe others and see how things work in the world. We are taught positive things by those whom we respect, and add their wisdom to ours so that our base of understanding grows. We learn self-discipline and discretion, and eventually we may make fewer mistakes in our choices. This is not an excuse for our failures, but it at least gives us hope that we will continue to grow and will, perhaps, do better in the future.
It has taken me a lifetime to learn discretion and many of my regrets have to do with things blurted out in anger or a lack of self-discipline in how I spoke. I believe I am forgiven by God for this, but I am still grieved by the realization of the hurt I may have caused others by my lack of restraint in the the heat of emotion. Perhaps this is part of God’s way of teaching us accountability, and may be His way of keeping us humble.
What can I do when I am overwhelmed by negative thoughts and remorse? I can remember that my Father loves me and has called me by name. I can remember that He knows my heart and sees beyond the surface. I can remember that He is a loving God, and that He wants me to succeed. He is not a tyrant Who is just waiting for me to do something wrong so that He can put a big black mark next to my name in His book. He has compassion for His people. He is saddened when we fail, but He doe not stop loving us.
It comforts me to remember the apostles. All of them were different men, with differing personalities. Peter was impetuous and bold. He, too, blurted things out and sometimes his impetuousness got him into trouble. John was a more quiet, more reflective kind of man. Paul (who was certainly an apostle, although not one of the original twelve) was the supreme intellectual. Thomas was a man who needed to see before he could believe, and so on. Very different men, but the Lord chose each of them, and used them in their own personalities, to learn from Him and go on to minister. God can use each of us, in our own personalities, to serve Him even while we are learning and growing. We need to remember also that we are only channels. God Himself is doing the work in the hearts of others; we are only those who serve to bring the message. We bring Him the water; He is the One who changes it into wine. He is greater than both our best or worst efforts and can use us, even if we fail in our own assessment of a situation.
I need to remind myself of all these things when I am looking back and feeling regret. God can use my blunders and willful disobedience and still bring good from them. He knows my regret for my failures and my desire to serve Him better. We are in this together, and He will be triumphant in spite of me.