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The condition for lingering regret happens through two circumstances. The first is a poor choice you have made while the second is when someone does something cruel to you. If you do not process either event with sovereign clarity, you’ll be stuck in ongoing regret.
Condition #1 – There are many moments in my past that I regret, though I don’t linger in sadness over what I did. In such cases, temporal regret is a good thing because it signals the soul to repent.
If regret lingered, there would be immeasurable fallout. For example, it would be the causation for a constellation of other problems like anger, bitterness, fear, despair, blaming, justification, and even gossip. The primary culprit underneath this “accumulative effect to lingering regret” is self-righteousness.
Self-righteous individuals live by self-contrived, self-imposed moral standards that exist outside the grace of God. After the self-righteous person sins, he has unresolvable regret because he did not meet his level of righteousness. If he accepted God’s grace and repented of his failure, regret would leave.
Condition #2 – There are other moments in my past where individuals have acted in cruel ways towards me. If I chose to hold those mean people to an unattainable level of righteousness, I would set myself up for regret because imperfect people can never meet the expectations of self-righteousness.
To hold others–including yourself–to a level of perfection that nobody can reach is an anti-gospel worldview. Jesus did not die for perfect people. He died for the failures. The first step in overcoming regret is expecting fallen people to fall (Romans 5:12).
Once you start trekking backward through life’s most regrettable moments, you will eventually get to Adam–the first human failure (Genesis 3:6). Though I am sad for Adam’s blunder and would never justify what he did, I’m amazed at how God has graciously overcome his sin and even used that regrettable moment for His glory (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4).
There is a difference between how God responds to sin and how we do (Isaiah 53:10). God uses sin redemptively. Human ineptitude is an opportunity for God to provide the grace that brings change to lives. He never holds individuals to a level of righteousness that is unattainable. Ironically, he never lets sin go, which is why there is a gospel.
At some point in your thoughts about your most unfortunate moments, whether you initiated them or not, you have to see them through the lens of God’s sovereignty, His ability to redeem, and His providential leading in your life. Please be sad about your wrong choices, but make sure that your sadness does not linger because God is greater than your sinfulness.
If you know someone overly fixated on their past sin, let me encourage you to come alongside them with grace and truth. Give them God’s perspective on their actions rather than reminders of their failures. Backward lingering looks at past failures and mutes God’s redemptive purposes in their lives.
Once you agree that God uses sin sinlessly, it’s time to move past what you did wrong. Live your life redemptively rather than regrettably. There is an implied accusation against God when a person won’t let go of sin. It says, “God should not have let this happen to me.” (Read Genesis 50:20; 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 12:7-10)
Sin does happen. Though you’re not presuming on God’s grace (Psalm 19:13) by living any way you want to live (Romans 6:1-2), you’re a realist. You do sin occasionally, and individuals sin against you. But God is always there (Genesis 39:2). Learn to live in the grace He gives for what happens to you rather than residing in the continual moments of past regret.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).