In my last blog post I shared some responses to a NY Times inquiry into regrets. Blog readers of the newspaper’s website sent responses ranging from funny to tragic. One pulled on my heart-strings:
“I dreadfully regret my adultery with a young wife and mother of an (unplanned) toddler in 1973. I wish I had never met her, and gave in to her importuning. I do penance at church every week, and on six pilgrimages to Catholic shrines in France and Spain and Portugal, for that grievous sin.” — Carlos
He travelled far and wide and was unable to procure forgiveness to heal his weary heart. As I mentioned last time, regret is natural, even necessary when we sin. But what do we do when we can’t let go of regret and the pain from our past actions?
Pastor Joe McKeever shared this story on his blog: “Pastor,” Thea said, “One of these days, I need to talk to you about something.” I was the new, fresh-from-seminary pastor of Thea’s church and had already heard the gossip about her. Before I knew what was happening, my secretary had blurted out that a year earlier, Thea had had an affair with a man she worked with at the department store. “She doesn’t think anyone knows,” the secretary assured me. I thought to myself, “Leave it to you and soon everyone will know.” “Anytime,” I said, “I’m here to do anything I can for you.”
Thea was in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer and was in great pain. I pulled a chair up to her bed and made small talk until she decided to pour out her heart and tell me the awful tale of her sin. She would have died had she known I already knew about it. At the end, I said, “Has God forgiven you for this?” She said, “I really believe He has.” She hesitated a moment and said, “I just can’t forgive myself.” I said, “You have higher standards than God, is that it?” She reacted quickly. “The very idea–why would you say such a thing?”
I said, “Sure sounds like it to me. Oh, sure, God can forgive me. But I have higher standards. I can’t let myself off that easy.” She said, “Then tell me what to do.” I said, “Believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for that sin on the cross, the same way He did all the rest of our sins and failures. And He says, ‘Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.’ He says, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far have I removed their transgressions.’ So, now, it’s time you started believing Him and got up off the floor and got on with your life.” One year later, I received a note in the mail. “It was a year ago,” Thea wrote, “that you told me just exactly what I needed to hear. I am a healthy person today. Thank you.” Repent of it. Learn from it. Then put it behind you and go forward. Everyone fails. Just don’t park there. (Joe McKeever (http://www.joemckeever.com/mt/archives/000591.html)
I like pastor McKeever’s advice: Repent of it. Learn from it. Then put it behind you and go forward. Paul was a man that could have had regret consume him. He had persecuted Christians to death before his conversion. He learned to forget what was behind and strained forward for what God had for him. How does one press on? By helping others caught in the same temptation… by volunteering time to help victims of similar circumstances… by discovering your calling and pursuing it with everything you have.
You can chase forgiveness around the globe or you can find it stretched out to you where you are… from a nailed scarred hand. Take it. Then put regret behind you and go forward.