They say it is not the wounds, the unrequited love, nor the failed ventures we regret; but, instead, the chances we never took. Regret is a bear, something we can put out of our mind during the day-to-day grind, and something we can put off until tomorrow. I will apply to college… tomorrow. I will call my dad… tomorrow. I will ask her out… tomorrow. Then, we wake up and realize how many tomorrows we wasted procrastinating or running from hard choices and emotional adventures.
As I write this, I am thinking about a man I have never met; but, one whom I know is questioning his choices right now. Was his behavior due to fear? Or, due to panic? Or, due to lack of certainty? Regardless, due to something within his heart, he allowed a beautiful opportunity to pass him by; and, I imagine as the years continue to pass, he will look back and ask himself, “Why did I not try? Why did I not put the effort in getting to know her?” Someone I know is hurting, but I know she will heal. He, however, will always wonder what he missed because he refused to open himself up to the possibility of a terrific relationship.
Can We Avoid Regret?
Few of us get to the end of our lives without experiencing some regret. As children, we are often unreserved and not yet aware of life’s lessons. We touch the hot stove until the searing pain teaches us to avoid it. We share our thoughts with complete honesty until social consequences teach us to tailor our responses. When it comes to romance, we typically fall hard the first time because we have not experienced the sucker punch of lost love. We may not be able to avoid all regrets, but we can reduce the factors which lead to regret including fear, isolation, and wasted opportunities to name a few.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I attended a small dance concert which included an interactive portion where the audience could jump in and try the dance they just watched. My friends jumped up and went for it, but I sat there glued to my seat. I can still remember how I felt sitting in that chair watching them laugh, mess up, and keep trying. One side of me wanted to join in and stop worrying about everyone else, but the heavier part of me kept sitting, watching, and longing for the freedom they felt.
Do I think about that missed opportunity often with grief in my heart? No, certainly not, but it is indicative of the bigger picture. For many years, I (along with countless others) pushed aside opportunities so I could avoid discomfort or disappointment only to realize how many moments I missed while choosing to remain “safe.”
Does any of this resonate with you? Are you one to take the bull by the horns and risk time, disappointment, and potential humiliation for the chance to gain something awesome, or do you hold back and count the cost when it is too late?
How is Regret Affecting Your Life?
- What do you regret? When you started reading this post, what regrets came to mind for you? A relationship you did not pursue? A financial decision? A friendship you let slip through your fingers?
- What can you do about it? First and foremost, are there regrets you are harboring which you can resolve? Is it too late to go after those dreams or opportunities?
- If it is too late to pursue these opportunities, are you moving past the regret or is it negatively affecting your daily life? We all endure regrets, but to live well, we cannot give them prime real estate in our lives.
- What chances are you currently afraid to take? What ideas are swirling in your mind? Going back to school? Changing jobs? Starting a club? Getting to know new people? Starting a dating relationship with a good friend? What excuses do you give yourself for putting off these ideas?
- What chances have you taken in the past and how did they turn out? When I am struggling with a pending situation, I often try to remember other tough times God helped me navigate. “Heather, you got through that, and you will get through this.” It is helpful to remember all the times your risks paid off and how different your life would be had you not taken certain chances (e.g., me agreeing to go to the movies with Eric in college)
- In general, which do you regret more: the chances you took which turned out poorly or the chances you did not take at all? Take some time and ponder why you feel this way? Is there a common denominator between all the risks you have taken (e.g., they all involved finances and I am confident in my finances, etc.) and the risks you have not (e.g., I seem to always avoid risks which include potential rejection, etc.)?
- Today is a new day. Yesterday’s regrets are in the past and you are looking ahead at so many possibilities. Proceed forth and take a chance.
- What needs to change in your life to avoid looking back on a lifetime of regrets? This is where the rubber meets the road. What is holding me back? What is setting me up for a retirement filled with what ifs? What changes do I need to make to ensure that I do not spend my time on earth in a perpetual state of regret?
There is freedom from regret, but it does not fall into our laps. We must make changes in our lives to achieve it.
- We must remove obstacles and excuses.
- We must allow others to speak into our lives.
- We must face the unpleasant truth about ourselves.
- We must let go of old baggage which weighs us down.
- We must break the cycle, or yesterday’s regrets will lead to tomorrow’s regrets.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV)
Ultimately, we all face regret. It is a part of living and learning. No one is immune. We should not allow the regrets we cannot resolve rule our lives. What matters going forward is that we pinpoint the root of what causes us to be regretful. Is it fear? Is it laziness? Is it procrastination? Is it looking for others’ approval? And, then make changes to our lives to mitigate regrets.
Freedom from regret comes from focusing on the truth and the future, and deciding to live with fewer regrets by choosing to take a chance.
As you move forward, we recommend adding the following questions to your decision-making process: Will I be glad I made this decision ten years from now? Will I regret letting this opportunity pass in the future?
Keep breaking free!!!
What are you afraid of regretting twenty years from now?