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Got Regrets? - By Pastor Thomas Engel


Do you have a list of would’ve, could’ve, and should’ves? If you do have a list, how long is it? Are there some regrets that keep rolling over in your mind that keep you up at night?

Here is a shortlist of common regrets:

  • Too much time on worrying

  • Not showing my deep feelings to the people whom I love

  • Caring too much about what people think about me

  • Not following my passion

  • Not fully living in the moment

Also, we may have a lot of little regrets. For me-with, my acid reflux-I always regret eating spicy food, but I get tired of eating such a bland diet.

When I wake-up in the morning and am feeling groggy, the morning guy in me wishes the guy of last night went to bed earlier.

It’s part of the human condition to have regrets. Since none of us knows the future, and although we base our decisions on what we know at the moment and try to plan to make good choices, we never can really know the outcomes.

So, we look back at our decisions, and we might have unsettled feelings about the outcome that did not turn out as we would have liked.

Does it really help to keep kicking ourselves when we see that life is not always turning out as we want?

One of the sayings that I hear often is, “It is what it is.” Not knowing what else to do, we are admitting that we do not have control over a situation, and with things getting out-of-hand, we are okay with the outcome, even if we do not like it.

We are saying that we are open to unknown possibilities and are accepting of what we cannot control. The world and life can dish out tough times, and we cannot always stop these difficulties. All that we can do is to do our best to get through them.

But, whenever I hear, “It is what it is,” I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. If the outcome is turning out negative, I am thinking that I am giving up on the situation. I want to ask, “How is it possible that I am too accepting of this “bad” time?” Should I let this go, or should I put up my dukes and fight?

At times, as I am looking at possible outcomes and am in the complexity of a problem, I get frustrated and want to ask, “Does it really matter?”

Well, to answer my own question, it all does matter, but how do I know if what I am doing is right? To show how complicated things can get, I have regretted things in my past, but then going down the road a little further, I have found that they have turned out well.

Regretting can be a “funny” business because it deals with judgments of how situations are.

Just by saying that something is “bad,” we are putting our own label on something that might have some “good” in it.

We have so many unknown possibilities that it all can leave our heads spinning. But, life keeps moving on, and we have to do something. And so, we do something because we just cannot be sitting there like bumps on a log.

Then, even if we are just sitting there minding our own business, life happens. Oops! We hit ourselves on the forehead. Why did I not think it through more? As we said in the beginning, regrets can cause us many sleepless nights.

So, maybe we need to dump our regrets as soon as they enter our thoughts.

Whose rendition of “My Way” do you like best-Frank Sinatra’s or Elvis’? I am kind of old school, so I go with Frank Sinatra’s.

You know the line in the song, “Regrets, I’ve had a few but then again, too few to mention.”

We have a tendency to over-think our situations. Since regretting is a lot of thinking about things that we have no control over, it seems best to stop our regretting.

I do not want to cause you any nights where you toss and turn with negative thoughts, but I will say that we need to do some regretting.

Thinking about our choices and their outcomes is a necessary part of the process of becoming a complete person.

Looking up the synonyms of regret, we will see some other words that help us see that regret is a necessary part of life.

Here is a list of synonyms for regret:

  • sadness

  • grief

  • sorrow

  • mourn

Life has a vast combination of feelings and thoughts because all kinds of situations come into our lives. Gains make us happy, and losses make us sad. We do well and hit things right on the head, and at times, we do make mistakes that are way off the target.

So, since the things in life do come that cause us to regret, we need to accept that we will have times of unpleasant feelings and thoughts.

Not only do we need to accept these times that give us the feelings of regret - but we also need to let them accomplish their purpose.

Sorrow over the past gives us the chance to learn valuable lessons about life. It is important not to push too hard to wanting to get to a point where all the wrongs get fixed. If we rush through the heartache, we will miss the time to gain wisdom and strength.

No one likes the pain that sorrow brings, but in taking the time to feel all the emotions and thoughts, we can get through them to a better life.

To be careful here, we are not to live a life of grief, but we are to feel it for all of its worth for a time, so we can move on-for moving on through all our experiences is the main point of life.

Looking at more of the synonyms of regret we also find words that are the main parts of faith-be sorry, shame, repentance, and contrition.

In the church year, we have seasons- Lent and Advent-that especially take time for repentance. Of course, we are always to be looking at our lives in the light of God’s Law to see how we have not done God’s goodwill for our lives.

We take a long hard look at ourselves and do regret our sins. Looking at our sins, we see our guilt, our shame, and the hurt that we have caused and are sorry for our sins.

This time of confession is not a pleasant experience. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can see that we have done quite a bit of wrong and have not done a lot of the good that we should have done.

When looking at ourselves, we have to admit we are sinners with a long list of would’ve, could’ve, and should’ves that leave us in anguish. As a matter of fact, we begin our confession, “I, a poor miserable sinner.”

But, if we go through our confession, we get to the point where we ask for forgiveness of every sin.

Knowing and trusting our Lord as a merciful God full of grace, we know He forgives every sin in Christ, and we can move forward to new lives in the power of that forgiveness.

Again, it has to be emphasized that we do not live as “poor miserable sinners.” This heaviness of always feeling the weight of our sins will slow us down to what we are to be doing with our lives.

The central teaching of the Christian faith is that we are to be producing the fruits that are keeping with our repentance.

Our new life is connected to our repentance. Because we have gone deep into our repentance, it means that the new life will also have depth and produce nothing but good works.

We are talking about taking the time to look at regrets and to feel them with the emphasis of the detrimental thing that they are, but if we can see them for what they are, it will make the turn to a new life complete.

Repentance is about turning, and when we turn from our sins, we want to be sure that we have turned all the way to God’s forgiveness and the new life that we have in that forgiveness.

In preparing for this message, I googled quotes about regrets. It seems that the consensus among celebrities who think of themselves as self-help gurus to pop psychologists is that hardly anytime if anytime should be spent on regrets, for they are just too negative.

Even the great writers and scholars get in on the subject. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Emerson is one of my favorite writers, and I can see where he is coming from about how regrets can cause an obstacle to our moving forward.

But, I am saying from a faith point of view that since things that cause us to regret happen, let us not immediately throw off our regrets like stinky trash but take some time to look at them as much as they do stink-and make use of them.

Even God had His regrets. When God made the heavens and the earth, He made each and everything perfectly good.

The first humans were made in His good image, yet He also gave them free will.

God did not make humans to be puppets that He could control to do His will. We have choices to follow our Creator who knows and does only good for us, or we can disobey. But, this disobedience can only have bad results.

In the first chapter of Genesis, God is quite pleased with His creation and says everything is good six times. But, several chapters later, God is looking at the world and is regretting that He had made everything.

The humans had multiplied to become corrupt. Instead of following God’s will for a good life, they did everything that could do to make evil mischief.

God saw all of the people’s sins, and He could not hide His face from it any longer. He had to say and do something about all of this wickedness.

As this wickedness grieved Him, God had to regret that He made humans. Here, we do have to see that God’s regret is different from our regrets. God knows the future and all outcomes. So, it makes sense to ask, “How can God have regrets?”

Whenever we try to explain God, we come up short because God is so deep but also so much simpler than we are. That’s why we cannot always comprehend God’s will for us because we do not really see how deep and simple go together.

I am not fully sure how God can say He has regrets, but maybe this “light” illustration will give some clue on a heavy subject.

Since the birth of your dear girl, you always dressed her in the best of clothes. Everything was cute and adorable. Then, one day, when the little sweetheart is about six years old, she says she wants to pick out her own clothes and dress herself. You take a big sigh and see that your girl is growing up, and you say, “Okay, my precious,” and you leave the room.

After several long minutes of hearing the opening of every drawer, the fashion show starts, and you are shocked. Nothing matches. Reds, greens, and browns are all out of sync with each other. There are polka dots mixed stripes that are going in all directions. All the seasons of the year are represented. Short sleeves with a wool hat, rain boots, and an umbrella with not a cloud in the sky.

How did this happen after years of perfectly coordinated clothes from head to toe? So, you ask yourself, where did I go wrong?

Well, you did not do anything wrong-really you did something right by giving your child a chance to make her own choices. All that happened is when she got her a choice, she ran with it.

This illustration does not quite make it, but it can help us to see a little about God and His regrets.

God looks down at a world of chaos, and asks Himself, “How can humans mess up so much after all that I have done for them?” But, He does not ask where He went wrong because God does not make mistakes.

By His regret, God is showing that He is just. Sin needs to be punished. As God looks down at His creation and sees disobedience, He knows He has to show His grievance against it.

From your Sunday School days, you know the next story well. God does wipe out the world in a flood, but God also knows He is the God that gives another chance.

As we know the story, God finds Noah as one good man in an offensive population and has him build an ark to save humankind. During the building of the ark, Noah preaches for people to repent of their sins, but no one listens. They are stubborn-they do not see their sins, so they do not regret their sins.

The rains come and flood the earth and the evil people are drowned, and Noah, his family, and the animals are saved to start again.

God puts a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise that He will never send destruction like that again.

As God knows the future, His regretting and our regrets are different, but in some ways, our sorrow over the past should be the same.

When it comes to our sins, God hates every single one of them, so we should hate our sins, too. God did something about sin. He gave humankind another chance. We should accept that offer for another chance.

God may have regretted making humans that they should choose to sin and not see His goodness, but God never regrets that He redeems His people.

I cannot help but think about what God is thinking as He looks down on today’s chaotic world. From what we know from Scripture, we do know that when humans disobeyed His will, He got angry and even regretted His decisions.

So, maybe God is angry towards our chaos that is seeming to be escalating towards division among us instead of resolving to unity in love.

But, we know that God is the one who makes the ultimate and final decisions. As messed up as this world can get, God still so loves the world.

He chooses not to judge us by our sins. If God chose to judge us by our sins, we would all be “goners”- we would all be condemned to hell, which would be a right and just punishment.

From the first sin, God the Father had a plan that He would send His Son into the world to redeem the world. His Son, Jesus, did come and gave his life as a ransom for many. God the Father chooses not to see our sin, but He sees only the blood of Christ that he shed on the cross by taking the punishment for our sins in our place.

We, who are forgiven, walk a new path that produces good fruits. We are sure to do this good work because God gives us His Holy Spirit to guide us into all good things.

I get that regretting can hold us up, and if it makes sense, I do agree that our regretting should be done quickly but also deeply-get it over and done with but take it for all its worth, so we can be getting on to be producing the best of all fruits every day in our lives.

The real trick is-if I can say that there is a “trick” to regretting our sins-repent daily-do not let the regrets of your life pile up on you. Keep your life moving along.

I got regrets. You got regrets. Why? Because we are all sinners. Let us look at our sins, but let us also be moving on to the good world that God made for us, wants for us, and equips us to have.

Going back to one of the common regrets-“Not living fully in each moment.”

How about we live in each moment as it comes-whatever it is, and by the grace of God, believe that all of our moments can add up to an awesome whole?

We believe all is good, for we are God’s beloved children who carry-as we remember on this Holy Trinity Sunday-His name-of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And it is in this name that we keep marching on.

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