Dealing with guilt and regret

I hate regret. That certainly isn’t unusual – regret is a horrible feeling. When we start to feel guilty or regret something, we often try to avoid these feelings. We use tools like distraction or self-justification.

But unless we actually deal with what is going on, these are difficult feelings to escape. They linger. They haunt us late at night. They rise up when we least expect it.

So how do we deal with these feelings?

It really depends on the why. Why are we feeling guilty? Why do we regret something?

Perhaps we have done something actually wrong. We may have lied or harmed someone. In this case, it is a sign of a healthy soul to experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:8). We should feel guilty and regret our sin. In this case, we deal with these feelings through confession to God and man and by making restitution where possible (see Luke 19:8). And then we accept the Lord’s forgiveness and move on, remembering his promise in 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we have done wrong.”

Perhaps we have simply done something that we (or others) dislike. We may have worn the same outfit to a party as our best friend or gotten stuck in traffic and made it home late for dinner. It is normal to wish that these things did not happen. However, no one is subject to others’ opinions and no one can control every situation. We can deal with this guilt and regret by acknowledging the situation, validating others’ emotions, apologizing where we can, and then moving on. If there is a lesson to be learned, we can apply it in the future – perhaps leave work earlier on Fridays to avoid the extra traffic.

Perhaps we blame ourselves for an undesirable situation. We may have experienced our spouse’s unfaithfulness, be dealing with a sullen teenager at dinner, or get laid off from work due to downsizing. Yes, we sometimes have a role to play in these situations, but typically this type of guilt and regret is based in a lie. We cannot control other people’s emotions or decisions. It is helpful, therefore, to review the truth of the situation: we are not to blame. We can move forward by forgiving others where necessary, surrounding ourselves with others who speak truth and love, and grounding ourselves in the truth that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

No one enjoys the feeling of guilt and regret. These feelings can eat us up inside. Thankfully, we can lay these feelings at the feet of the cross.

If we actually have something to feel guilty about, we can trust that Jesus has dealt with this sin on the cross.

If someone dislikes a situation but we had no control or it is only their opinion that is bothered, we can approach them with humility, seek wisdom from the situation, and move on.

If we blame ourselves for something that is not our fault, we can trust that God is in control and we have freedom and peace in Christ.

Written by Jessica Hayes
iHope Communications Director