You did something you regret – maybe you made a bad decision, unhealthy choice, or even a disastrous mistake. How do you stop regretting what you did? How do you let go of the past, forgive yourself, and move forward with your life?
I recently read an interview with Tony Danza in a men’s magazine. “Do you have any regrets?” asked the interviewer. Tony quoted Arthur Miller, who once said the best we can hope for is we end up with the right regrets. “I got some that aren’t so right and some that are,” Tony added. “There are some regrets that bother me and always will.”
Living with regret is an unavoidable part of life. God gives us freedom to choose, make good and bad decisions, and live with our choices. We’ll never make the right decision all the time! Regretting the past is painful, especially if we’re dealing with regret after a loved one’s death. But, God also gives us tips on how to stop regretting bad choices or unhealthy decisions — and He even shows us how to grow through our past mistakes.
This article is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project; I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of the Bible. This one — How to Stop Regretting a Decision You Made — is inspired by Genesis 16.
You don’t have to believe in God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit to benefit from my tips for letting go of past regrets, bad decisions, or unhealthy choices. Just keep an open mind and consider new possibilities. Listen to the still small voice that brought you here.
How to Stop Regretting Past Decisions
Do you regret the decision you made, or the consequences of that decision? There is a difference — and the difference makes a difference! Give it some thought.
For example, in the Bible Abram and Sarai used their servant Hagar as a surrogate mother. Genesis 16 tells us that God promised them “children as numerous as stars in the sky” but Sarai couldn’t conceive. Abram got Hagar pregnant. Hagar then disdained Sarai, who retaliated by mistreating her. Hagar ran away into the Negev…where she meets Jesus.
Did Abram and Sarai regret their decision to use Hagar as a surrogate? Or, did they simply regret the consequences of their decision (Hagar’s reaction to being pregnant)? We’ll never know for sure how they dealt with their regret, but we can learn from their mistakes. And we can stop regretting the decisions we make in our own lives.
1. Untangle the reason you chose a certain path
Abram and Sarai chose to use their servant Hagar as a surrogate mother because they knew God promised them a gazillion descendants. But that was ten years earlier, and Sarai still wasn’t pregnant. Both Abram and Sarai were getting older — and they probably told their friends and family they were trying to get pregnant because God promised them a huge family. So…they tried to help God out. Their choice made sense to them at the time, though later it proved to be the wrong one. I believe they regretted their decision, but I don’t know how they dealt with their regret. I do know, however, that facing the reasons underlying any decision is a healthy way to stop regretting the past.
What compelled you to make the decision you made? You chose a particular path because it made sense to you at the time. You decided X based on the knowledge, resources, and wisdom you possessed at that time in your life. Maybe you regret the decision itself, or you regret the consequences of that decision. Maybe you’d do everything different if you could go back in time…because now you know differently. But, back then, you made the best decision you could given who you were and what you had that time in your life.
2. Open your mind to a fresh perspective
Genesis 16 tells us a little bit about Abram and Sarai’s decision to use Hagar as a surrogate mother. What the Bible doesn’t make obvious is that there are a million other things going on — things we know naught of. For example, Hebrew culture was extremely family-focused. A woman’s role was to have children; barrenness was a sign of failure, even divine displeasure. Infertility was a sin of sin or at least a bad past decision! Sarai and Abram were facing social, personal, cultural, and other factors. Also, there’s the spiritual battle that only God knows about. He gives us a glimpse of the spiritual forces swirling around us humans in Job, but He doesn’t tell us how much spirituality affects our daily lives, choices, and actions. Spiritual dynamics affect how we make decisions — and even how we stop regretting past decisions!
What role did God play in your decision-making process? There is no right or wrong answer. Just give it some thought: how did you invite Jesus into your decision-making process? Recently I’ve been struggling with regret over a past decision I made. About 20 years ago I decided to get a teaching degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton instead of going to seminary. I wanted to be either a preacher or a teacher…and I chose teaching because it made more financial, social, professional, and personal sense. Now I’m writing articles on how to stop regretting a past decision because guess what? I regret not going to seminary. And I know God didn’t play a role in the decision I made. I was solely focused on worldly reasons to get a teaching degree.
If you’re struggling to decide something right now, read How to Make a Difficult Decision in Your Life.
3. Help yourself grow spiritually and emotionally
I don’t know how Abram and Sarai grew spiritually or emotionally from their decision to use Hagar — or if they even talked about how to stop regretting the decision they made! But I do know that Hagar ran away as a result of the pregnancy and mistreatment. And. Hagar met an Angel of the Lord (Jesus) in the Negev. This was the first time the Angel of the Lord appeared in the Bible, to a single pregnant Egyptian servant girl. Jesus told Hagar to go back to Abram and Sarai. Hagar renamed Him “The God Who Sees” because He found her in the desert. She wasn’t seeking Jesus, though she may have been struggling with regret about her decision to run away from Abram and Sarai. She may have died in the Negev if Jesus hadn’t saved her.
How can you use your decision — and your regret — to grow spiritually and emotionally? No matter how bad your choice was, how disastrous the consequences, or how harmful the mistake…don’t let your decision define you. Use it to grow into a more compassionate, wise, loving person. Learning how to stop regretting a decision you made always involves growth, or it’s just a waste of that experience and time in your life. Don’t let it go to waste. Use it, for it is fertile ground for good growth.
Read Genesis 16. Learn about Abram and Sarai’s decision to use Hagar. Put yourself in their shoes; how would you stop regretting your decision? If you were them, would you forgive yourself? Let their story help you grow forward in your life.
May you find compassion and self-forgiveness as you learn how to stop regretting your past decisions. May you seek Jesus with your heart and soul, and may the Holy Spirit’s presence descend into the core of your being. May you learn from your choices, and may you become the woman God created you to be.
Your thoughts — big and little — are welcome below!
With His love,
P.S. Are you struggling to break old habits? Read 3 Ways to Stop Wasing Your Life on Meaningless Things.