Who doesn’t love the film “Finding Nemo?” My favorite scene occurs when Dory encourages Nemo (whom she dubs “Mr. Grumpy Gils”) by singing: “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, What do we do? We swim, swim, swim!”
Over the last year, I’ve done a fair amount of swimming, myself. Yes, some has actually been done in the water. But more of my natatorial time has been spent “swimming laps in pools of regret.” (Interestingly, I first read that quote many years ago in the book Who You Are When No One’s Looking by Bill Hybels)
How about you? Do you find yourself hashing and rehashing life choices? Wishing you had made an alternate decision or experienced a different outcome?
The truth is that we can’t relive the past. As much as we might wish, there’s no reverse button on life; no opportunity for a “do-over.”
The opportunities are endless to say “Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda.”
Regrets come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they’re the result of uncontrollable circumstances. Sometimes, they’re the result of our own choices. And sometimes, they’re the result of the actions of others:
-Perhaps a loved one has died suddenly and now there is no opportunity to express things left unsaid or change things left undone.
-Maybe you ignored blinking warning lights and made poor relational choices.
-Did moral failures or addictions destroy your marriage, family and reputation?
-Perhaps you passed up a wonderful scholarship, job or investment opportunity and have flogged yourself ever since.
-Sometimes, the lingering regret comes from mediocre work performance that resulted in losing a job or a major client.
-You might have spent countless hours working and climbing the ladder of success over the years and had little time for your children. Now, in your later years, they have little time for you.
-Or, sadly, you might have ignored fatigue and mysterious health issues and not have discovered the cancer until it was Stage 4.
Regrets, regrets, regrets.
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the adage “hindsight is 20/20” and can see it in your own life. And the truth is that if you live long enough, you’re likely to have regrets.
But what do we do with those regrets? How do we keep from repeating past mistakes, staying stuck in pain and heartache or completely losing trust in people?
Here are some of my hard-earned “swimming lessons:”
Write down the lessons you have learned: “I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw.” (Proverbs 24:32) What can you see in hindsight? What have you learned about yourself? What would you do differently? Please write those lessons down and share them with a trusted friend. Writing helps you remember. After all: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11) What wants to be a fool?
Seek godly counsel: Even if you’re a Mensa, you don’t have all the answers. None of us do. Have enough humility to allow others to speak into your life. Ask. And really listen to the answers. Don’t just surround yourself with human “lap dogs” who will tell you what you want to hear.
Be accountable: Yes, it’s important to choose wisely. But all of us need a few people that we trust completely, from whom we have no secrets. “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” Isaiah 29:15 Give a few trusted friends permission to ask you the really hard questions. And commit yourself and your honor to being honest with the answers. Even the last 10%.
Father really does know best: Every time, and I mean every time, I’ve gone outside of God’s boundaries with my behavior, I’ve regretted it. 100% of the time. No circumstance is “special.” You haven’t earned a free pass for sinful behavior because you’ve suffered so much. Trust God and follow His lead. He really does have your best interest at heart.
Begin with the end in mind: Could you easily make a list of your core values? Of what is really important to you? Things you’d want to be truthfully said at your funeral? Does your current life align with those values? If you keep that list handy (I wrote mine in the front of my Bible) and refer to it regularly, you’ll be reminded to make wise life choices moving forward so that the “words and music” of your life are in harmony.
Listen to the “still, small voice:” If you’re a Christian, you have the indwelling Holy Spirit as your counselor and guide. Yes, poor moral choices can cause you to have “hearing loss.” But if you really ask God for direction, and are committed to surrendering and obeying, you will make the right choices, even if the rest of the world tells you you’re crazy. Ask God for wisdom and discernment. That’s a prayer He loves to answer!
Do the right thing now: Maybe you have regrets from not adequately telling a loved one what they meant to you before they died. Yes, that opportunity has passed. But aren’t there other people in your life that you love deeply? Another parent, a sibling, a child or grandchild? Learn from your regrets and take corrective action, now. Stop procrastinating.
Let go of a desire to “get even:” Sometimes, when you’ve been badly hurt, there’s a natural tendency to keep dwelling on the offenses and want to have payback for all of the pain. Let it go. Forgive 70 x 7. Move forward with your life. Leave the hurt in God’s able hands. He clearly states “‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” (Romans 12:19)
Ask for forgiveness: If you’re the one responsible for the regrets, be sure to ask God and those you’ve offended for forgiveness. Repentance means doing a 180 in your behavior, not begrudgingly saying “sorry” to avoid punishment and continuing to act the same way. Don’t blame or make excuses. Save your breath unless your request for forgiveness is heartfelt and genuine.
Embrace “post-traumatic growth:” Instead of feeling defeated by the difficult journey you have walked, ask God to bring beauty from ashes. Be confident that He is and He will. Look at the ways you’ve grown. You’ll be amazed.
Thankfully, “His mercies are new every morning.” (Lamentaons 3:23) We can learn from our mistakes and from painful life experiences. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. We can press on with hope, with joy and with expectancy, knowing that God can and will bring beauty from ashes. He’s doing it in my life, and He will do it in yours.
God’s not done with you yet, Friend. “Keep on swimming, keep on swimming…”
“So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into. Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 TPT)
PS: If you need a little more encouragement, listen to the great song
“God’s Not Done With You” by Tauren Wells.
PHOTO CREDIT: BEN-SCHONEWILLE, I-STOCK PHOTO
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