I recently ran into somebody whom I haven’t seen in years. Actually “running into” may be exaggerating things. It was more like seeing her in passing, taking ten or so seconds to actually recognize her, and then getting hit with a small tsunami of regret.
I have to admit, that last part surprised me.
When I knew this person, I was not in a good place in my life. I was mentally and spiritually struggling, and I did not treat her well as a friend or Christian should. We had a pretty bad falling out, and it was entirely my fault. This happened half a lifetime ago. I’d like to think I’ve made a good deal of progress as a person since then. I’m much closer to Christ now than I was then, and I’ve prayed over those errors of my past. I thought I’d moved on. I was surprised how little it took to open that old wound again.
That’s the trouble with worldly regret. Paul speaks about godly regret that leads to repentance in II Corinthians 7:10, and certainly the regret I felt over how I treated this individual prompted me to repent and seek to better myself. But the regret that kicked me the other day wasn’t that kind of regret. It was harsher, demoralizing, and spiritually weakening. It was the grief that produces death in the second half of II Corinthians 7:10.
Removing Regret’s Power
We simply cannot let regret have power over us as Christians — no more than we allow anger, fear, or hatred have such power. Certainly Peter regretted denying Christ. He certainly regretted his behavior leading up to the cross. I’m sure he had plenty of time to dwell on that regret prior to the resurrection, but he never let that regret consume him like Judas had.
By John 21, Peter is moving on with his life. When Christ then reveals His identity to Peter by way of a miracle identical to that of Luke 5:1 – 11, Peter doesn’t shirk away. Instead, he jumps in the water and swims ashore, so he can get to Jesus as quickly as possible. He had sinned. He had regretted, but now he was ready to move on and heal.
Even when it catches us by surprise, regret does not have to consume us, nor should we be afraid of or ashamed of it. We have to face it. Where Judas shows us an extreme example of the dangers of regret, Peter shows us another way. We can lean on God in our times of regret and grow stronger by working through those feelings. Like Peter, we may need to lean on Christ or fellow Christians to help us on the journey.
Every regret is a spiritual challenge to do better, and we move past that regret by facing the challenge and overcoming.