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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Getting past guilt can be challenging, but regret can be dealt with, healedcomment (0)

October 24, 2013

By Carrie Brown McWhorter


Jordan was a star athlete in high school, skilled enough to earn a sports scholarship for college. However, during his college years an injury and a prescription for pain medication led to a drug addiction that sidetracked Jordan’s athletics career and his life. 

Through the ministry of a Christian rehabilitation center, Jordan recovered from his addiction, and he is now a teacher and a coach. Though few know his name, Jordan’s experience has encouraged many people through the song inspired by his story, “Hello, My Name Is” by contemporary Christian songwriter and artist Matthew West.

The first line of the song, “Hello, my name is regret,” speaks to a weight that about half of Americans admit to carrying — regret over the consequences of past decisions. 

“I read Jordan’s story and couldn’t help but wonder how many people in the world are walking around defined by the defeat and the regret of past mistakes, believing the lie that they will never be able to kick an old habit or move on from yesterday’s mistakes,” West writes on his website. 

“Jordan’s story is powerful proof that we are not defined by our past. God can restore, redeem and renew our hearts and lives. He can set our feet on a new path that will lead our lives to a destination far greater than where we used to call home.”

Though most Americans believe God is a God of second chances, getting past our feelings of regret and guilt can be challenging. Fortunately it is possible, according to Renay Carroll, a licensed professional counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling (a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries). The key is in processing past conflicts and seeking resolution and acceptance, she said.

“Many of us look at our past mistakes and try to act like they did not happen, but these attempts fail to deal with the powerful feelings of guilt and regret,” she said.

Steve Trader, also a licensed professional counselor with Pathways, said he has seen many people try to deny responsibility for their choices, even as they are consumed with shame for those choices. 

Others try to avoid responsibility by comparing themselves to others, Trader said. 

“They might say ‘I’m as good as that person,’ or ‘at least I’m not as bad as that person.’ They try to soothe their conscience without taking responsibility,” he said.

When a person has used poor judgment in making decisions, however, a change of direction is necessary to overcome the negative feelings about those choices, according to Carroll. Christians call this process of changing the mind, turning and moving in the opposite direction repentance.

“We repent to God over past failures and then seek biblical forgiveness and reconciliation with others,” Carroll said.

Following repentance, Trader said there are three steps individuals can take to get past the negative feelings of guilt and regret. 

The first is to admit your feelings to yourself, to God and to others if necessary. Taking responsibility for one’s actions counters the tendency to blame others for our choices.

The second step is to ask God to free you from the guilt and regret you carry. 

“Many people will say, ‘I know God has forgiven me,’ yet they continue to carry that burden of guilt. They constantly beat themselves up and let their regrets steal their joy,” Trader said.

In those situations, he said, the Bible offers encouragement. For example, 1 John 1:9 promises that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 

This and other verses point to the biblical way of dealing with regrets of the past, Trader said.

Finally Trader suggests taking action. 

“If you can do something about the situation, do it. Seek reconciliation. Make restitution. But if you can’t do anything, then allow the power of the Holy Spirit to work in you and let it go,” Trader said.

Letting go and moving forward is hard, but once again, the Bible offers guidance, Trader said, referencing Phillipians 3:13 and Paul’s example of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” 

Living in the present and future is the key, Carroll said. The past cannot be changed, and the consequences of bad choices or uncontrollable circumstances like car accidents, sudden death or natural disasters cannot be erased. Fortunately our God is the God of Creation, Carroll said, and He makes all things new. Therefore to get past our negative feelings about the past, we must stop dwelling there, she said. “When we think of living life with regret and guilt, we are often living in the past as opposed to living in the present and future,” Carroll said. “While we have no control over the past, we do have control over our present and future choices.”

Our relationships are best managed when we process our issues from the past, seek forgiveness and reconciliation and make new commitments and agreements to live and work together, Carroll said.

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In their book “The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships,” Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas suggest five languages for how to say, “I’m sorry.”  

Expressing Regret: I am sorry.

Accepting Responsibility: I was wrong.

Making Restitution: What can I do to make it right?

Genuinely Repenting: I’ll try not to do that again.

Requesting Forgiveness: Will you please forgive me?

Source: Renay Carroll

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To read more articles in this package, click here, here, or here. 

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