If you live long enough, you will have some degree of regret. It’s a given that most people have at least one area of life that they wish they could change or do over. There have been moments for me when I reflect back and say, “What was I thinking?”
There are decisions we wish we could make over, words we wish we could take back and missed opportunities where we would like to have another shot.
We respond to regret in one of two ways. We pick ourselves up, admit we messed up, learn from the mistake and go on with life, realizing we are a better person just because we have gone through this occasion. Or we can carry around the regret like a weight on our shoulders the rest of our life. Sometimes we have a combination of the two. Some decisions we learn from and go on to grow and other regrets we carry around as if it is a shrine that we must visit on a regular basis.
Regret is a terrible thing to live with. It affects every area of our life in some way. It hinders our relationships with those we love the most. It short circuits our ability to make positive change and it keeps us from having a clear vision of the future. When we hold to regret we are constantly looking over our shoulder as if something in the past is following us to remind us of our past failure. When that occurs we are allowing our past to become a primary factor in determining who we are now.
How can we escape the grip of past regrets and move on to a productive future? There are at least five keys that will help us move on and leave regret in the dust.
1. Make a decision with your will that you are going to leave that regret in the past. Until we determine that we are going to leave the regret in the past the past will determine who we are in the future. The Apostle Paul gives us some great advice, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize.” – Phil. 3:13-14. Some would argue that Paul is just making a spiritual application and that he isn't referring to our secular life. But to a believer there is no difference in the secular and sacred, everything is sacred. We are to bring everything in subjection to the obedience of Christ.
2. Don’t let the past determine who you are today. Even though you may have those around you who are “historical”, make up your mind to live in the now not the past. Look at it this way, our past can become our teacher or our jailer. God allowed this past regret to occur in order to keep us humble and teach us to trust him in every future decision. I am sure Paul had his past in mind when he wrote “forgetting those things behind us”. He realized that living in the past kept him from living out God’s plan for his life. The same is true for us. Living in regret keeps us from realizing God’s best for our future. You can’t change your past but you can change your future.
3. Realize you still have potential as long as you have breath. Unless you have some terminal disease you have longer to live that you think. Don’t let regret destroy your potential and your destiny. Turn the energy of your regret into potential for the future.
4. You become the person who you think you are. We are a product of our thinking. If you are a person discouraged and influenced by past regret then your attitude about life and daily living will reflect that. The Scripture tells us in Proverbs, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” One way to change our past is to change our thinking. There is an interesting aspect about our mind. We can’t think on two things at one time. If we set our mind on negative things our life reflects a negative outcome. If we set our mind on positive things, like truth, our life will reflect positive thinking.
There is a key point here. Just thinking positive thoughts does not change our behavior but proper thinking is the starting point of a healthy view of life. By intentionally leaving regret in the past and believing God has something better for us, will in the end, put us on the road to positive change.
The battle is in the mind. The Scripture is clear about this principle. That’s the reason we are admonished to “Set your mind on things above, not on things below.”(Col. 3) If we can learn to set our mind on truth, away from the negative, it will transform our thinking and help tear down those barriers that keep us from knowing and accomplishing God’s best for our lives.
Please understand I am not talking about some mechanical quoting of positive, non-personal affirmations. I am encouraging you to live out of your identity in Christ. We all agree that Christ is competent, adequate, secure and fully accepted by God. Because we are in Christ and Christ is in us, then we also are competent, adequate, secure and fully accepted by God. That’s a pretty good pedigree. As Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:6, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.”
5. God has given us a greater capacity than we realize to dream and grow beyond where we are today. The mind is a powerful thing. Einstein was convinced that we only use 10% of our brains capacity. If you ever doubted your capacity just reflect on your dreams while sleeping. Sometimes I wake up from a dream and think, “where did that come from, that dream was crazy.” But other times I am amazed at things I said and did in a dream.
A few months back I had a dream where I was in a conversation with a group of people. In that dream I was rattling off facts and technical statistics about stock market investments and trend investment analysis. This was one of those times when I awoke and said, “How did I know that?” Somewhere along the way, I must have heard a stock report that included technical statistics or maybe read it in a magazine and it was stored somewhere in my brain.
I don’t make too much of dreams because most of the time it’s a jumbled mess of events and people that makes no logical sense. But this time the dream got me to thinking about the potential of the human mind. If we fill our mind with truth and begin acting out of that truth, how much could we really accomplish in life? I believe that we have the capacity to learn and do many things if we will just let go of all the past regret that is holding us back, look to the future and believe that God is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us." (Ephesians 3:20)
God has given us the natural desire to succeed and be content, but it’s up to us to act on that desire. Will you step out in faith and have the courage to leave your regret and your past behind? Will you trust God to give you the power to leave your regret behind and allow Him to help you be more than you ever dreamed?