Regrets—Friend or Foe?

Regrets—Friend or Foe?

A friend asked if I’d consider doing a blog on regrets and sent the following:

I've really been wondering about regrets and question if as Christians - should we have them?  And are regrets an emotion or can they just be a logical choice or decision?  If we do in fact live each day and really, each moment, as God intends, then how can we have regrets?  I hear expressions like - "live with no regrets", but I think that really means "do what you want when you want". I'm not sure.  Questions come to mind, like –

· Should I have worked as much as I did when the kids were little?

· Should I have spent more time with family members that are now gone?

· Should I have studied more in high school?                                                                      

I think there are many things I would do differently if I could do them over again, but for the most part, I appreciate the outcomes and have learned from each experience so I don't know if I even have regrets. M

Based on an account of a minister having an affair, and leaving the ministry, my client asked, “Why didn’t he have regrets?” “Did you ask him? How do you know he didn’t have regrets? “He went on with his life with blessings with a new ministry and a new wife. How could that be?  regrets.  Having no regrets could be proof of forgiveness.”

Regrets: Definitions: Emotional response of regret can be measured as the value of difference between a made decision and the optimal decision. Regrets are also how we learn about ourselves, and know what it is we really want. In feeling regret, we have clarity about what outcome/things we truly want for ourselves.

Regret is distress of mind, sorrow for what has been done or failed to be done.

1. feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).

2. “She immediately regretted her words”, apologetic about, feel remorse about/for, feel contrite, a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

3. “She expressed her regret at Virginia’s death.” remorse, sorrow, contrition, contriteness, repentance, penitence

Chaplain Mac said he normally asks clients: “Do you have any regrets? Something that’s hampering you to be the person you can be? Reevaluate the lessons learned when you were doing the best but now, they are merely memories.”

Should we ever have regrets when we did things ‘my’ way?  Isn’t that egotistical? Doing things my way?

Mac mentioned Frank Sinatra’s very popular song. The lyrics are included.

And now the end is here, And so I face that final curtain, My friend I'll make it clear I'll state my case, of which I'm certain, I've lived a life that's full, I traveled each and every highway, And more, much more, I did it, I did it my way … Regrets, I've had a few, But then again too few to mention, I did what I had to do I saw it through without exemption, I planned each charted course, Each careful step along the byway, And more, much, much more, I did it, I did it my way… Yes, there were times I'm sure you knew, When I bit off more than I could chew But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out, I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way, … For what is a man, what has he got?  If not himself then he has naught, Not to say the things that he truly feels, And not the words of someone who kneels. Let the record show I took all the blows and did it my way.

There’s no question that Sinatra owns the phrase “I did it my way.”  I can imagine that many of you are remembering and humming. People request that song sung at their funerals. Brother Mac suggested although Sinatra's lyrics are loved, it could be better replaced with “I did it God’s way. “

Some people surmised that Frank Sinatra’s approach on life was indeed egotistical and even though they, themselves began on that note, that they gradually moved into the attitude of trusting the Lord to lead them in their pursuits.


Regret is a valuable tool. A decision or action, so right at the time for what I did or did not do but on reflection years later with more maturity under our belt may understand what better possibilities could have been. Consciousness of regret enables one to think before acting or deciding which greatly curtails regrets from immaturity and emotionalism. We cannot undo mistakes but can certainly make good use in the future.

Unfortunately, some parents place enormous burdens for their personal lingering regrets from past mistakes onto their children, trying to make up what hadn’t been fulfilled.  The story about after the student walked across the stage to receive his diploma for medical school handed it to his dad and said “Here’s your diploma Dad, now I’m going to do what I want to do.”  This story illustrates damaging parental control.

Regrets-Foe?  If our regrets are hindering our self-acceptance, then they are foes. Regrets are often products of social pressures and not necessarily wrong as much as just unwise. Some regard regrets as sin—therefore a foe.  Longing for ‘no regrets in life’ is like trying to avoid sin—not feasible--will happen only when we get to heaven where we can no longer want wrong things. God forgives us for mistakes in speech and actions but some people are so distraught with their mistakes that the rest of their lifetime, they beat up on themselves. Forgiving ourselves is possible and releasing.

Putting regrets into a positive frame, just think of your/our rash, immature and perhaps thoughtless decisions or statements—our ‘oops’--that you/we have uttered or decided over the years eventually, somehow, magically materialize into a ‘whew’ or possibly even a ‘yippee’.  

But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.  It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Job 32:8-9 (NIV)

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom, the man who gains understanding, 14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold…. making wisdom more precious than any early desire. Prov.3:13-15 (NIV)

I remember my affliction and my wondering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; 22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.” Lam 3:21-24

Paul encouraged: No temptation (problem, regret) has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted—problemed—beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. I Cor. 10:13 (NIV)

Father, thank you for forgiving us, and forgetting, when we do not confide in your wisdom. Help us to see the importance of loving others as well as ourselves unconditionally. Amen