What is regret?
Regret is the thought that we could change the past. When we withhold forgiveness from holding on to regret, we think about how we could have changed the past in a way that would have eliminated or minimized the offense. In order to be free, we must let go of the third prison wall of regret. Jesus said that we should forgive from the heart, which is one’s mind, will, emotions, and spirit. Whereas revenge emphasizes the will and resentment emphasizes the emotions, regret emphasizes the mind. Regret is intellectual sorrow. Words of regret are usually prefaced with, “I could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve.”
How does regret affect our vertical relationship with God?
Regret is pride’s way of holding on to the thought that we could change the past — either the offense and its consequences, the offender, or our behavior. It flows from a proud heart that leaves no room in our thoughts for God: “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4).
Regret commits at least two offenses: it fears and protects. Regret fears the loss of our pride, and it protects our pride. In essence, regret is anxiety about the past. Anxiety means a divided mind — one that only partly trusts in God and partly trusts in ourselves.
Fear and protection are the two defense mechanisms of our fallen mind of pride. Every inclination of our thoughts is bent toward evil, trusting in ourselves rather than God (Genesis 6:5; 8:21). Jesus said that these evil thoughts come from a divided mind (Matthew 12:25; 15:19; Mark 7:21). Regret, the thought that we could change the past, is an evil thought rooted in pride that is diametrically opposed to God’s design because it trusts in ourselves, not God.
Fear can be defined in an acrostic: frustrated expectations assume regret. Fear stems from unrealistic expectations about the past offense, the offender, or our behavior. It minimizes or reduces expectations that people will sin against us, and that we might not respond wisely. Unmet expectations are the cause of frustration that feeds regret which leaves us saying, “I could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve.”
Protection seeks to defend our unrealistic expectations in order to keep our pride. In our mind, we think that if we can protect our pride in changing the past, then we can be victorious over the offender.
Regret imprisons us in the past and robs us of the present and the future. When we are imprisoned in withholding forgiveness by holding on to regret, we do not trust God’s forgiveness. When we don’t trust God, we are not loving Him with all of our mind — the vertical portion of the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5). This robs us of fully experiencing His presence and the future He has designed for us.