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The Haunting Darkness of Regret

Regrets…I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.”*

That’s from the song, “My Way,” first popularized by Frank Sinatra, and later by Elvis and the Sex Pistols.

I always preferred the King’s version, myself, but that’s just me.

I’ve often wondered if, at the end of their lives, Frank or Elvis thought about those words. Did they mean them? Did they really have too few regrets to mention?

My wife is one of those lucky souls hardwired to forgive herself almost immediately and move on. It’s in her DNA, but some of us aren’t so blessed. Regrets creep into our psyche and will do their best to wreck a beautiful day. The lamentable episode could’ve happened last week, last year or even decades ago, but is still fresh and raw to the touch.

I’ve dealt with two close friends lately who say they have a mountain of regrets. And these are heavy regrets. We’re not talking about mouthing off to your mama when you were in a bad mood, and then later begging her forgiveness.

I’m referring to actions which resulted in life-altering heartbreak.

Perhaps this also describes you. If so, please allow me to express my deep sorrow for the shadowed anguish of your darkest nights. I’d love to tell you I’ve fashioned a technique by which you can expunge your shame. Would that I had some enchanting mantra which would cause those memories to be magically erased from your very existence.

But, alas, this is not the case.

The murkiest of afflictions can only become manageable with the help of God, and time.

In the Bible, King David felt your pain. He knew God had forgiven his adultery and murder, but he still had days when his iniquity still loomed over him…

I am about to collapse from constant pain. I told you my sins, and I am sorry for them (Psalm 38:17-18).”

For me, one of the keys to moving on is acknowledging my wrongdoing. This could mean confession to the victim, or if this isn’t possible, to someone closest to us.

Next, I believe it’s imperative we examine our lives. Are we making the most of our days, or are we squandering them away in apathy and animosity? Have our regrets cast such a large shadow over our present that it’s sabotaging any hope of a bright future?

Listen, if you can make something right, do it, if you can change something, do it. Otherwise, you must must must move on!

Show me your paths and teach me to follow; guide me by your truth and instruct me. You keep me safe, and I always trust you. Please, Lord, remember, you have always been patient and kind. Forget each wrong I did when I was young. Show how truly kind you are and remember me (Psalm 25:4-7, emphasis added).”

Another tip which helps me is to have a distraction always ready. An activity or (good) habit which makes us laugh or gets us pumped up. This can vary from graphic novels and heavy metal (my favorite distractions) to exercise to bird-watching to who-knows-what.

Don’t stay dormant and stew in your regret. Move on.

Take a lesson from our family motto (of which my daughter and I both have tattoos):

No fear of the future

No regrets of the past

Jessy's no fear tat

You must have someone at-the-ready to speak to; a person you can fully trust not to mock or gossip. A colleague, mentor or buddy who won’t judge you. Someone who will let you cry on their shoulder, and then say something really goofy to make you laugh afterward, just to resurrect your joy.

I’m sure you have something you’re good at. There’s an old saying, “Everyone can do something.” For me it’s writing—most of the time with both this blog and the book I’m currently working on, and also with writing poems and songs with my son—but for you it might be woodworking, riding your Harley or needlepoint.

God never meant for you to boil in your own shame.

Just ask yourself: am I still that person who committed these sins?

If not, keep on truckin’, friend. Ease on down the road. Get to movin’.

For those who have a God-sent vision, throw yourself fully into that, all the while keeping a list of Bible verses to quote at the devil when he tries to maul you with yellow-fanged remorse.

 “I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission (Philippians 3:13b).”

For those who have no mission, no vision, ask God to give one. Beg Him for a dream. I guarantee He has one stored up solely for you; it’s just that you’re just not privy to it yet. Let it be known to both Heaven and Earth: you are no longer going to be a victim of your past, but rather, are choosing to be victorious today and in the future!

Regrets are going to try and haunt all of us, but as the saying goes (which I’ve quoted before):

You can’t stop a bird from flying overhead, but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair.”

I think that was more for those old Pentecostal women who wore their hair in a bun than it was for bald dudes like me, but you get the point.

Remember, keep moving forward, even if you have to crawl.

Never give up, never give in, never surrender.

 “What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit, because a broken spirit, O God, a heart that honestly regrets the past, You won’t detest (Psalm 51:17-19).”


“My Way” © 1969 Paul Anka

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