Regrets about the past can be a persistent cloud in the sky for the sunniest of us. However, others wake up to a sky overcast with gloomy regret-clouds every day. Believers in the Gospel good news enjoy completely clear skies above because they have accepted God’s forgiveness and the past is washed away. Theoretically!
Actually, God’s forgiveness of the guilt of your sins doesn’t automatically heal all the wounds from your past: the wounds you’ve inflicted on others as well as the wounds you’ve caused to yourself. If you feel you need to do something to bring healing, that feeling may be his voice, and you won’t have peace until you respond to it.
One of the problems comes from confusing WOULD Haves (“My will was to do the right thing, but circumstances prevented it”) or COULD Haves (“I had the ability, but not the opportunity, to make a better choice”) with SHOULD Haves (“It was all my fault”). You may be one of those people who tend to see every failure in life as your fault. Everything is on your conscience. Sometimes you can sort this out by yourself, but often it helps to talk it over with a trusted friend, with your pastor or with a therapist.
I’ve found that many popular Christian blogs, books and sermons teach about this in a way that may add even more guilt to people looking for guidance. The author of this article (https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/explore-the-bible/7-powerful-steps-to-overcoming-regret.html), for instance, begins by asserting that regrets about the past are always brought to our minds by Satan, “the Accuser”1 He then lists a series of victorious biblical texts2 that guarantee a believer a regret-free life. If I, the reader, am still bothered by regrets, I am made to feel ungrateful to God and, therefore, more guilty.
The 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous takes a different approach. In its original form, AA begins in Steps 1 through 7 with a clear understanding that my recovery can only start in a one-on-one encounter with God, involving openly acknowledging my “defects of character” and “humbly asking him to remove them” — clearly acknowledging all my past SHOULD Haves. But, it doesn’t stop there. There’s a recognition that personal sins have social consequences. Steps 8 and 9 are all about my “making amends” to the people I’ve harmed. There are clear limits to this — when the people I’ve wronged have died, where bringing up the past might cause more unwanted pain to them or others around them, etc. Yet, I have to be willing to make amends in all the past situations where my SHOULD Haves left a trail of suffering discord and chaos.
I think modern popular Christianity tends to overlook this reality: sin leaves scars; sometimes open wounds. These have to be dealt with, not hidden and denied. That only cultivates hypocrisy, superficiality and judgmentalism. AA’s approach is more valid, more healthy and more Biblical.
God’s grace is free, but it’s not cheap!
– – – Pastor George Van Alstine
1 Revelation 12:10-11
2 Romans 8:1 – Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 – Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:28- We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.