Four More Ways to Write Regret a “Dear John”
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 02 June 2017 02 June 2017
Last week, I shared three ways to kiss regret goodbye. You can read about confession, restitution and taking God’s promises of forgiveness seriously here. But the Bible has much more to say about how to evict a past that is living rent free in your head. I hate it when authors tell me to do this, but read that last sentence again.
The very fact that regret is a recurring theme in scripture suggests that you are not the first to wish you could get a do-over or two. Or three. In fact, just this week, I passed a church in rural Georgia advertising this Sunday’s sermon:
Apparently, quite a few of us have struggled – or are struggling – to put the past where it belongs. So here are four more ways to send regret a Dear John letter.
Confusing Condemnation & Consequences
Did you ever wonder how David could be called “a man after God’s own heart,” when he was guilty of adultery and murder? Part of the answer lies in David’s willingness to embrace his own brokenness. Psalm 51 is one of the most heart-wrenching confessions in all literature. Psalm 32 is full of hard-nosed honesty about his own failure. And when the prophet Nathan confronted him, (2 Samuel 12), David skipped the excuses, explanations and evasions and confessed, “I have sinned.”
Was he forgiven? Yes! Nathan said, “The Lord has taken away your sin.”
But then, the child he fathered by Bathsheba died. David’s son Amnon raped his own half-sister, Tamar. Tamar’s brother Absalom killed Amnon, then mounted a coup very nearly ripping the kingdom from his father.
So if David was forgiven, why did all those bad things happen?
Because forgiveness delivers us from the guilt of our sins, not the consequences.
If you are living with the aftershocks of some faithless decisions, that last sentence may be hard to read. It was hard to write. I know what it is to live with consequences – a word that always seems to be in the plural. But feeling the fallout of a past sin does not mean that you are still living under a cloud of condemnation. If you have confessed and turned away from your sin, the guilt is gone. Don’t confuse consequences with condemnation.
Turn Regret into Gratitude
Few biblical characters had more reason for regret than Paul. And as far as we can tell, he never forgot the pain he had caused, the damage he had done, the lives he had ruined. So how did he live with the regret? He turned it into gratitude.
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength . . . even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” (1 Timothy 1:12 – 13). He follows that burst of gratitude with this – “I was shown mercy . . . the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly . . . I was shown mercy . . . now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
You get the impression that every time regret tried to drag Paul back to his bloody, blasphemous past, he responded with, “I know, right? Can you believe how awesome God is? He poured out his grace – he showered me with mercy – what an incredible God!”
You and I can do the same. Whenever memories of your sin rise up to haunt you, turn your eyes to Jesus in praise. He grace is greater.
Make Your Mistakes Your Mission
It is no accident that Peter, the apostle who was caught flat-footed by a slave girl in the High Priest’s garden, would encourage his readers to “always be prepared to give an answer,” (1 Peter 3:15 – 16). He knew how awful it felt to meet an opportunity for faithful courage with faithless fear.
Was Paul’s legalistic past the reason he wrote so eloquently about grace?
Was John so insistent about love because in his early years, as one of the Sons of Thunder, he was more intent on revenge?
One of the most redemptive things you and I can do with our failures is to use them to encourage, challenge, warn and guide others. The thing you regret may be exactly what equips you to walk alongside someone who is struggling with the same issue. Especially if that someone is your own child. Every parent would love to leave his or her children a legacy of spiritual success. But if you have failed, you can give them the next best gift – a living example of what it looks like when a Christian, by the grace of God, comes back.
The Windshield or the Rear-view Mirror
Recently, it has become kind of theologically cool to downplay the joy that awaits the redeemed in heaven. I understand where folks who do that are coming from. If all Christians ever think about is heaven, we’ll be less inclined to work for earthly justice. I get the argument, but I don’t buy the premise. A lot of hospitals, schools, children’s homes, relief organizations and medical missions – in other words, a lot of justice-seeking ministries – were launched in an era when Christians were preaching, praying for and writing songs about heaven.
Paul certainly seemed more focused on what was in his windshield than what was in his rear-view mirror.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 3:13 – 14).
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing, (2 Timothy 4:7 – 8).
Regret is the rear-view mirror of your life. You are not there anymore. You are not even who you were. You have already traveled that rough road and now, you are on a new, straighter, smoother stretch. Look ahead. That’s where you are going. And it is going to be glorious.