By the time we become adults, we have all done things we regret. Some regrets may be from childhood, with the only consequence being our embarrassment when they are humorously recounted at family gatherings. But even minor regrets may make us mentally uncomfortable when called to our remembrance. What is the purpose of regretful feelings?
We often regret things we said or did that hurt someone, embarrassed someone, humiliated someone, damaged someone’s reputation, or brought retribution or punishment. Some actions deeply impact others’ lives, as well as our own, and carry long-lasting consequences.
We may regret failing to do or say something that might have helped someone avoid negative consequences they now suffer. Or, we may regret not having taken the proverbial “leap of faith” to attempt accomplishing a long-held aspiration. We wonder what we might have attained, and if life would have been better.
Many times, our thoughts of regret come at milestone events in our lives, such as graduation from high school or college, moving to a new city for a new job, selling a house, leaving an employer, retiring, or attending the funeral of someone dear to us. If only we had studied harder, or pursued a different degree, or left our employment to take a new job, or saved more for retirement, or spent more time with a loved one while they were alive, etc.
Our minds search for a solution to our regrets. If only we could go back in time and take back harsh words we spoke in anger, or undo something we did. If only we could warn our past selves to think things through, perhaps we could prevent hasty decisions. But we cannot, and the mentally painful regret and long-lasting consequences remain.
Searching the Internet, we find lists of common regrets. Many regret their career and educational choices, and failing to become their “ideal self.” One of the most commonly held regrets is that of not having fulfilled a lifelong dream. We may regret having been sidetracked by the everyday circumstances and busyness of life. We may have worked to obtain the necessities of life, while sidelining our hopes and dreams. And before we realized it, years and decades had passed, and we found ourselves in our latter years, too late to pursue those dreams. Things might have been different, and better, if only… if only… if only.
So, why did the Almighty God create in us the capacity to regret? In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “regret” is μεταμέλλομαι (metamellomai), which means “to care afterwards, that is, regret: - repent” (G3338, Strong’s Greek Lexicon). This word is used in the Parable of the Two Sons, which Christ related to the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:28–32). The story is of a man who asked his two sons to go work in his vineyard. The first son refused at first, “but afterward he regretted it and went” (v. 29). The second son said that he would go, but did not. Jesus used the parable to show that tax collectors and harlots who believed and acted on His Gospel message would enter the Kingdom of God before the priests and elders who did not “regret,” who did not believe and act on His message.
The purpose of regret is to lead us to repentance. Some only think of repentance as a religious term for being sorry, but to repent really means to change, to reverse course and go in the right direction. If your regrets are leading you to desire to change, you won’t regret watching “Is God Calling You?” and reading Christian Baptism: Its Real Meaning.