Regret and Self Forgiveness

lamp postRegret is a bastard.

The way it clings us to the past, making us recite our flaws, our mistakes, our failures over and over. Regret replays our worst moments like a gif, looping again and again in our mind’s eye. Regret convinces us that if only we had done it differently, said something else, been a different person then things would be better.

Regret eats at our confidence and self-worth because it is focused on the very worst moments in our memory.  And, boy, do we remember those moments. Moments we were made to be a fool. Moments that humiliated us. Moments where we got it so wrong.

Mistakes seared into our hearts.

Those moments that haunt our dark closets. Moments we want to hide away and forget about. But regret won’t let you forget. It reminds you. It stalks you. When you are feeling good about yourself, regret whispers words like “fraud, fake, fool.” It has the stories to back up its claims.

Regret is something we all share.

How do we fight it? It’s one thing to say you have no regrets, to put on a brave face and mask the insecurity and regret that hollow out your core. It’s quite another to face the demons in the dark and come out victorious.

So we beat ourselves up. In the moment and sometimes for years afterwards, we take our fear and channel it into anger at the one person whose fault it is: ourselves.

We get angry at ourselves for the mistakes we make, for the flaws we just can’t get rid of, for the failures that mark our souls. We flail about, throwing phrases like stupid, inept, weak at the person in the mirror.

Sometimes we try and make it right, make it better, silence the voice of regret by working harder, burning the candle of our hearts at both ends to see a difference somehow emerge.

Or maybe we bury the flaws six feet under the soil of our skin, praying to God that no one will go digging too deep.

Or maybe you are like me and you just run from regret, fleeing into whatever pleasure and vice that numbs the voices and distracts from the pain.

And please believe, regret can cause immense amounts of pain.

Are these our choices: the self-flagellation of demanding perfection, hiding what we are ashamed of about ourselves, or running away from it all like a child outrunning the monsters in the dark? Are these the only ways, the only choices?

Let me tell you another way, a way of love.

Be gentle with yourself. Speak kindly to your soul. Be tender with your heart, for it is a broken thing.

Why do we push, hide, and run from ourselves when we could learn the art of self-love? To be sure, it is a complex matter and it takes time, energy, and practice to learn, but wouldn’t it be worth it to learn to like yourself, all of yourself?

Wouldn’t it be worth it to silence regret and instead find healing from our flaws, courage to face our failures, and wisdom from our mistakes?

What would it be like to look at the dark corners of your life not as the enemy to be destroyed or overcome, but rather as a growing child who is still learning the ways of the world?

What if instead of burying your flaws and praying no one finds out, you could embrace them with tenderness, bringing them into the light where they may finally find healing?

What if I stopped running and distracting myself, and instead faced my pain, treating myself as someone who is hurting, grieving, and in need of help?

See, I have regrets. Many of my regrets are tied to faces of girls I have been in relationships with, relationships that have ended badly and left scars on my heart. I can only imagine what wounds I have inflicted; what scars are my fault.

I live with regret.

I’m trying to untangle myself from the past, but I’m not good at this self-forgiveness I believe in. I’m not good at being gentle with myself. I beat myself up for the mistakes I made with human hearts. Even now, the mistakes I make in my marriage make me push myself harder to be perfect. I am hard on myself. Or I am running, distracting myself from the pain I cause. I don’t want to forgive myself because at some level I don’t believe I deserve it.

But I do.

I deserve to forgive myself. I deserve to be gentle with myself, for I am still in progress. Yes, I make mistakes, and sometimes those are gigantic in proportions. Sometimes those mistakes hurt people I care about, like my wife. And yes, I need to learn, to change, to make restitution where I can. But I don’t deserve to be harsh with my heart, to crush my already bruised soul.

So I will learn this lesson of self-forgiveness. I will preach this truth and freedom to my own heart.

Self-forgiveness is a powerful thing. With it we can find freedom from the chains we layer on top of our souls. Through it we can learn to be wholehearted, rather than fragmented people trying so hard to hold it all together. Through self-forgiveness, we learn to love and like ourselves. In self-forgiveness, we loosen the icy grip of regret and begin to move forward rather than being anchored in our past.

So speak gently to yourself. Use words that you would speak to your friends with. Think of yourself as in progress. Be kind to your heart, for it is a fragile thing. We all know the devastating power of harsh, hurtful words. Why should we speak them to ourselves?

Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Forgive yourself for not always getting it right. Forgive yourself for the pain you cause others. Own your mistakes and make restitution for sure, but don’t hang yourself on the gallows.

Forgive yourself as Christ has forgiven you, for all is covered by his blood.

And all will be made well in him.

Let’s move forward instead of being haunted by our pasts. Self-forgiveness is that way forward. Self-forgiveness is the revolution that enables us to learn gentleness, kindness, and love with ourselves. Self-forgiveness is something God desires. This is the road towards freedom. This is the path to wholeness. This is a radical lesson that we show to other people, the steps we take are the steps they can take to be in love with themselves.

Love yourself as you would love your neighbor, your brother or sister, your niece or nephew.

This whole crazy idea starts with forgiving yourself, letting go of that which you regret, laying bare that which is raw and hurting. Open up to your trusted community; let them show you what acceptance and forgiveness looks like. Then practice it on yourself. Say sorry to your heart. Apologize to your soul for keeping it pent up and eaten away by regret. Forgive yourself and see how good it can be to let go of that which you are afraid of.

I’m here to tell you your self-imposed penance is at an end. You aren’t perfect. You make mistakes. You cause chaos and pain. But you are not yet complete. Your story isn’t finished. You still have miles to go. Don’t let regret stop you in your tracks.

Forgive seventy times seven, even yourself.

  • LivingLifeUnscripted

    The tears streaming down should be a direct indications that these words have incredible impact.

    Next, I’d like to say GET OUT OF MY HEAD! Not really, but these words resonate with my heart and strike a chord. It’s as if you perfectly worded my own thoughts. I definitely struggle with these things. I can honestly say I have very few regrets. However, they are a bitch, yes.

    I am grieving in several different ways – for lots of reasons. I am guilty of not really being very kind to that image from the mirror. Now, like you, I can encourage others (and I have) to take a look in the mirror and see the beauty I see – to look in the mirror and see love not just pain staring back.

    But, you go and ask me to afford myself this same grace and I don’t seem to be able to fathom it as the same reality for me. I do not seem to value myself the same or think God is as happy with me as others. I feel I often disappoint.

    Now, what I will tell you is this. I will try. I will look in the mirror and try to see anything redeeming staring back. I will do a mental inventory (this could get scary) of all the things that I may need to forgive myself for. Baby steps. I’ll try my best to be gentle, and learn to celebrate good moments.

    Thank you for sharing with authenticity – for not hiding behind the mask of security.

    • Yes, be gentle with yourself! Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend. You deserve it.

      • LivingLifeUnscripted

        Conversation with the mirror today.. Yes, legit conversation transpired…

        Looking at the mirror: you are beautiful
        Mirror talking back: what are you smoking?
        Looking back at the mirror: not only beautiful, but you are so loved.
        Mirror looking back: I’m not worthy of that. Look at all this brokenness.
        Looking at the mirror: but you are. You are loved. You have a story. Your story matters. It is a story worth telling.
        Mirror looking back: let’s pretend I believe you.

        We laugh.

        I’m not sure I believe myself. I spoke words to myself that made me think. I’m trying to believe the words that I say to countless others (and do believe) are applicable to me. I’m just not sure I believe me.

  • Addie

    You sound like you are starting to take steps on the road of healing… this is good…. good stuff

    • Trying to take a few faltering steps. Thanks for reading.

      • Addie

        I may not always comment, but I always read your posts… your journey mirrors my own and if I can ever give you a hand, reach out and grab me
        faltering steps in the right direction are always better than laying down on the side of the road…. keep walking, we are here for you to lean on if you need to

        • Thank you.

          • Addie

            This just reminded me of a song “Be Kind to Yourself” by Andrew Peterson – someone told me to show it to my kids, so I watched it first and then realized that I needed to be practicing and modeling it for my kids first or they wont believe me when I tell them to be kind to themselves… so whenever I start to be hard on myself, I sing a little part of the chorus to myself…. thought maybe you might want to listen and see if it helps you as well

            • Ya. That song goes through my head on a regular basis.

              • Addie

                so funny how similar our journeys are… hope you have a good weekend

  • harrisco

    Aaron – Good words (again). I know this territory too–of being relentlessly hard on yourself, of treating yourself with no mercy. One thing I have realized about Jesus – once he forgives, he never reminds. He just moves on. He does not remind us of all the crappy stuff we have done. He does not make us feel small or useless or imperfect because of the errors of yesterday. He just forgives and moves on with us. There may be people in your life who are ‘reminders,’ who get some kick out of reminding you of some error you made when you were 15. These are toxic people. Find people more like Jesus, who will not remind but forgive–and move on with you too, learning together what it means to be imperfectly human but perfectly loved. That is grace.

    • Finding grace filled people who help you forgive yourself is important. We need that love and support for sure.

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