How You – and God – can Deal With Painful Regrets

Do you know anyone over 30 who has absolutely no regrets? I don’t. There’s stuff you experienced that you wish you hadn’t, opportunities you wish you had pursued, things you wish you had learned earlier or done differently, and things you did that you may deeply wish you hadn’t done. All that can weigh you down. How do you deal with painful regrets?

Those regrets are often accompanied by deep shame. As Dr. Curt Thompson writes, “To be human is to be infected with this phenomenon we call shame.” The messages keep playing in your mind; “If only . . .”

Daniel Pink has created the World Regret Survey and written a book about the results. It seems regrets are part of our experience as humans, and talking about them can help. And as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.”

But let’s look at regrets from a specifically Christian perspective. How does God look at the things you regret? What does He do about them? How might that impact how you deal with painful regrets?

No More Self-Contempt

Some people tend to look at other humans with contempt. That’s a serious issue. But when your contempt turns on yourself, it’s usually even worse. Listen to the conversation in your head, especially when something hasn’t gone well or when you’ve done something you wish you hadn’t; would you say those things to your best friend?

In matters around sexuality and intimacy, these self-contempt messages can become especially loud. You may secretly despise that six-year-old you for “giving in” so easily to sexual abuse, or that ten-year-old for following your friend to look at porn and getting hooked. You hate your teenage self for being either so out of control or so naïve, or your present unending neediness that keeps you running from relationship to relationship. You may loathe the part of you that wants more from your marriage than your spouse seems willing or able to give.

And what about what you did in response? The lies you “chose” to believe, the sexual behaviors or porn you engaged in, how you responded (or didn’t) to your spouse sexually, the lines you crossed, the vows you broke, the people you used and harmed along the way. Self-contempt seems easiest, and perhaps even godly.

But self-contempt sabotages any forward motion you may be making in cooperating with God in your transformation. Jesus never looked on anyone with contempt. He doesn’t look on you with contempt now, either. If He doesn’t, why do you think you know better than He does?

Notice any feelings of self-contempt or shame trying to distract your attention. You can’t eliminate shame by just trying not to feel ashamed, but you can notice the temperature in your inner world and choose to keep going anyway. Put your inner critic on time-out for a bit.

How God Sees You

I often ask someone I’m working with, “How do you imagine God feels about you? Not what you intellectually “know,” but what does your heart feel He feels when He thinks of you?” The most frequent response I hear is, “He’s disappointed in me.”

How sad. And how less-than-accurate.

Your internal picture of God, the way your soul feels He feels about you, can’t help but be strongly colored by your earthly parents or caregivers, especially your father. The subjective messages your right-brain tell you almost always override the “truth” your logical left-brain “knows,” even about God. You may have to do some intentional and hard work to address the picture of God in your mind.

That’s why Jesus’ coming was so important. He shows us what God is really like. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Everyone who came into Jesus’ presence had regrets. They felt their regrets even more starkly in light of His irresistible goodness.

But by His very presence Jesus made transformation possible. Those who came close to Him also felt pulled up into a new level of living, a process of becoming who God originally created them to be. They wouldn’t have been able to put words to it, but they felt infused by hope.

That’s how God sees you too. He sees all you’ve experienced and done, all the things you regret. But He also just as clearly sees beautiful glorious person He is creating you to be. He views your process of becoming with anticipation. God is not tied up for even a moment in regrets.

God is not disappointed in you; He’s looking forward to who you will become as He does His work in you.

What God Does Your Regrets

So, what about your unique regrets? Perhaps they’re specific acts you did or didn’t do. Or perhaps you regret your whole lifestyle or way of being in the world. What does God do with that?

One of the best examples of how God deals with painful regrets would be what God did with Paul. The young man Saul had spent years seeking to destroy those who were following Jesus. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:4).

But when God got ahold of Saul everything changed, and Paul became His missionary to the Gentiles. Paul wasted no time in either covering up or groveling in how he had previously persecuted Christians. It became the back-story against which God’s amazing grace and miracle-working power were displayed in Paul. “And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24).

That’s what God does with your regrets also. Large or small, He can take the very things you regret the most and turn them into substance of value in you whereby you become a demonstration of His miracle-working power. He doesn’t always remove all earthly consequences. Sometimes your story becomes a public testimony, and sometimes it’s between you and Him. But nothing, not even the things you regret, need be wasted.

God takes even your regrets and turns them into beauty and glory.

Showing Up and Saying Yes

What do you do in the process?

You might wish God would zap you as He did Paul on the road to Damascus. But what isn’t talked about nearly as much are the years following that encounter that Paul spent hidden away with God (Galatians 1:15-18). God will take you through a process too.

And your job is to keep showing up. And keep saying Yes.

That’s how you deal with painful regrets. Bring them to Jesus. Then keep showing up. And keep saying yes.   Tweet that.

I wonder what beautiful thing God is creating you to be?

Your Turn: What do you regret? How are you dealing with painful regrets? What do you think God is up to in how He is dealing with your regrets? Leave a comment below.

Want more? This week on the podcast I talk with “Real Talk Kim” Jones, about regrets and how to get up from them. Listen or watch here.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Everyone experiences regrets. But how do you deal with painful regrets? And how does God see and deal with the things you regret? It’s really good news.  Tweet that.

Do you want to live FULLY ALIVE?

There are simple steps you can take EVERY DAY that will propel you forward in experiencing the kind of life you want, and that God wants for you physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

Get your FREE Resource Guide now: 7 Keys to Living Fully Alive – from the Inside Out.