Learning, Regretting, Repenting and New Year’s Resolutions

“Looking back, I have no regrets and I wouldn’t change a thing.”   That may not be exactly right, but it’s close enough to what the celebrity said during the interview on her life and career. I read it in the newspaper recently and it got me thinking because that’s definitely not my experience. Of course I don’t know her, but I do know what it is to be human. Perhaps she’s had the perfect life, but I think it’s more likely that she has a hard time admitting her faults, at least to the media. Or maybe she simply hasn’t learned anything.

I’m happy to be alive, learning and growing, but it’s not always easy. As I learn new things, pretty often I find myself regretting my past behavior. Learning how to be a better person in various roles (parent, spouse, friend, employee, leader) means recognizing that my prior actions were often self-serving, counterproductive, short-sighted or just plain inadequate. Ouch! That hurts. It’s painful to admit that I’m not and haven’t been that good, and it causes me to regret (that is, experience a feeling of sadness) about my past behavior.

Yet that’s normal, helpful even. Can there be any meaningful learning without regretting? I don’t think so. We absolutely should experience regret from time to time; the more new things we learn, the more past behavior we will have to regret. The question is what do we do with those feelings? How do we not get stuck in guilt, sadness and despair?

Sometimes the regrets are minor in nature and easily dismissed. True example, I am contemplating writing another book, and have just now learned how to make an automatically updating table of contents in Word. Wow, so easy! I feel stupid for not learning that before. Why didn’t I take the time to do so? How much time have I wasted changing subtitles and page numbers? Oh well, it’s negligible in the big picture, and not worth thinking about any further. I’m excited to know how to do it now.

But regrets are not always so simple to dismiss. What about the things we did that hurt people? What about the money or years we squandered? How about the health we took for granted or compromised through self-destructive behavior? As Christians we should be led from regret, a mere sadness over our past actions, to confession and repentance; confession being the open admission of our guilt – our poor or inadequate behavior has caused harm, and repentance being a desire and intent to change for the better added to the sorrow of regret.

Repentance and confession to God allows us to experience his forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. God’s verdict is “Not Guilty,” and knowing that should help us work through our sadness and regret without minimizing our past. Repentance and confession to other people may or may not result in their forgiveness, but it does allow us to be open to correcting wrongs where we can, and it’s helpful as we try to make a positive change going ahead. The Bible encourages us to confess our sins to one another.

Yet, the process isn’t without pain, which can cause us to look for an easier path. “No regrets, just be different! Change without guilt! Just do it!” How often we just try to be different without grappling with our weaknesses and our pasts. But there are no short cuts. Denying your nature and avoiding guilt puts you on the wrong road; it’s as much as a problem as getting stuck in the guilt. Neither gets you to the destination you seek. The path goes through the sorrow not around it.

Perhaps now at the start of 2016, you’re contemplating one or more New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you want to be more healthy and well – physically, emotionally or spiritually. If so, don’t avoid the regret. Acknowledge the past, your guilt, and your weakness. Regret. Repent. Confess. Receive the verdict of “Not Guilty.” Then make your resolution.

Let me know if I can help.