Life’s Too Short To. . .Live In The Past
Life’s Too Short To… prt. 6
Wildwind Community Church
I would venture to say there’s a good possibility that there are some people at Wildwind Church today who are not carrying any regrets. Do you think that’s possible? I’ll bet there is a small handful of people who aren’t burdened by guilt or regret, who don’t ever think about mistakes they made in the past, who live moment-to-moment, carefree and light. You can meet those people if you’ll venture down to our nursery and children’s rooms!
We don’t have to get very old, do we, before the regrets start piling up. What’s on your list? I wish that when I was younger I had found a powerful and charismatic leader to mentor me and help me learn how to lead. I regret that I never had the courage to pursue athletics in school – there’s a hole in my life I will never be able to fill because of that. I wish Christy and I would have thought more carefully about finances before we made the choice to marry at 19 before either of us were even close to done with school. I won’t even get into the extremely long list of times I wish I had kept my mouth shut. Or the times I wish I’d have spoken up when instead I shrunk back in fear and remained silent. Or the times I wish I’d have thought twice before getting angry with Christy or my children. Or the times I remember picking on kids who were even lower than I was in the pecking order at school. I said things to some of those kids that I would just give anything to take back. I know that when some of those kids think back on the most painful moments of their lives, they can still see me standing in front of them and calling them these awful names and laughing at them. I can’t count how many emails there are in my history where I wish so much I’d have never hit the Send button. I have probably hurt countless people with careless words and emails. A friend from high school died a few years after we graduated, and there had been anger and pain and tension and hostility in that relationship for a long time that was never resolved, never let go of. I carried that around for a long time. I’ll stop now, not because I’m done listing my regrets, but because you have regrets of your own this morning, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.
So what’s on your list? Is there anything more painful in life than our regrets? What is a regret? I would define a regret simply as a painful memory of a time when you wish you’d have spoken or acted differently than you did. That seems to get at the heart of our pain of regret, doesn’t it? At first it seems to, but I don’t really think that definition is complete. In fact I don’t think that definition even remotely gets at what makes regret so difficult for us to bear. There’s one more critical component to regret that gives it the incredible sting it has. Let’s add that to our definition:
Regret -- a painful memory of a time when you wish you’d have spoken or acted differently than you did, that is now impossible to change.
THAT’S what makes regret feel unbearable, isn’t it? It’s not just that you slept with that person you shouldn’t have slept with, it’s that you can’t unsleep with that person. It’s not just that you said something you shouldn’t have said – it’s that you can’t unsay it – apologies are good, but they don’t unsay the hurtful or angry things we have said. It’s not just that you took this drug or that drug or drank this or that – it’s that you can’t untake those drugs or undrink what you drank, and you can’t change whatever consequences you and your loved ones suffered as a result. It’s not just that you argued with a loved one, it’s that your loved may now be gone and you can’t go back and make peace.
Regrets are painful because they are usually double blows. They are painful or embarrassing things we have said or done (blow #1) that can’t be changed or taken back or made right (blow #2). By the way, I’m dealing with these deep and unchangeable regrets this morning. If you’re living with regrets that actually CAN be changed – relationships that COULD be healed, decisions which COULD be reversed – please do that immediately! Each of us will live with enough of the real kind of regret – things that can’t be changed – in our lives that there’s just no sense living with regrets over things we CAN change. If you are currently living in regret over something you have the power to change, and you don’t change it, then I can safely predict that one day one of your greatest regrets will be that you did not seize the day and make those changes when you had the chance.
We have all been taken down at some point or another by the one-two punch of regret. Sexual decisions, financial decisions, relationship and friendship decisions, substance decisions, legal decisions, employment decisions – the list is endless. It seems that to escape one kind of regret is just to be caught in another kind of regret. Do you know that at Wildwind Church you will never be expected to look, talk, or act like you have lived a regret-free life? In fact if you act that way you might quickly become uncomfortable here because real friendship, real community, the real sharing of hurts and burdens between human beings, begins with the acknowledgement that we are all scarred by regrets. The question is not whether you have regrets, or whether I have regrets, the question is only which ones – which particular burdens each of us is carrying around.
Life’s too short to live in the past. Life’s too short to live in the past. There are different ways of living in the past. Bruce Springsteen sang a song in the 80’s called Glory Days, about people who never look forward but always want to stay in that place in time where they were homecoming queen, or star of the baseball team, or whatever. The popular current movie Napoleon Dynamite features a character who spends all his time reliving his last big football game in high school. Today a band called Bowling for Soup has had a major hit with a song called 1985, about a person around my age who is preoccupied with 1985, just wanting to go back to those days and do it all again. Every generation eventually churns out songs about what it feels were the good old days – invariably days connected to Jr. high and high school, days which of course at the time many of us couldn’t wait to put behind us forever. Yet for some reason there’s something incredibly tempting and powerful about nostalgia, about a longing for the past – it’s a swan song to all of us at some point or another – but that’s not the kind of living in the past I want to really address with you today.
That’s one way of living in the past, and it’s sad and something we should deal with at some point. But it’s regret I want to talk to you about today. The kind of regret that can hold us captive to one moment where we said or did something stupid or hurtful or embarrassing. And then we carry that hurt and pain and embarrassment with us, and think back on that moment all the time, and wish so much we could change it but we can’t, then we hurt over our powerlessness to change what we wish we could change.
The other kind of living in the past I want to talk to you about this morning is the pain of guilt. I already gave you Dave’s definition of regret. Let’s see what the dictionary has to say about each of these words:
Regret – To remember with a feeling of loss or sorrow.
Guilt – Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrong-doing.
So as we launch into the scripture portion of today’s message, we are left with these keywords I want you to be thinking about.
Loss, sorrow, self-reproach, inadequacy, and wrongdoing. I want to say those words again, listen to them –
Even just hearing those words makes me feel sad.
As you live with regret, with guilt from your past, you experience ongoing loss, sorrow, self-reproach, inadequacy, and a sense of wrong-doing. And of course sometimes we ARE inadequate and we HAVE done wrong, but the idea is that we live in a continual state of self-reproach and inadequacy because of something we have done or said. Life’s too short to live that way. Why? Remember what I have said again and again about living with open hands. Sin is anything that keeps us from receiving what God has for us, anything that separates us from God so that we cannot be increasingly caught up in His life and his vision for our lives and the world.
Do you think an ongoing sense of loss, sorrow, self-reproach, inadequacy, and wrong-doing will help you become closer to God, or to receive what God has for you? Isn’t it funny how we so often think that in order to be spiritual we must feel guilty? Now I know – a lot of people think the church puts guilt on them, but I’ve been around the church long enough to know that’s only half-true. See there seems to be a hole in the human heart that can only be filled by guilt. There’s something twisted in us that loves to feel guilty and regretful because we think somehow those are spiritual qualities. We feel guilty, after all, because we did something wrong, and it must be good to realize we did something wrong. Or we experience regret because we made a terrible mistake, and there must be something spiritual about realizing we made a terrible mistake and living with regret. Or we are susceptible to false guilt (being “guilt-tripped”) because we have weak characters that don’t have healthy boundaries – we haven’t embraced the identities for ourselves that God has carved out for us, so we are like sponges and just take on excessive responsibility for everyone else’s problems.
Do you know Jesus did not speak of guilt or regret? Do you know that there’s nothing spiritual about living in a continual state of guilt and regret and that doing that, in fact, demonstrates LACK of faith, LACK of understanding of how God would have us live, LACK of having embraced God’s vision for our lives and our place in the world. Did you know that? Did you know that carrying around guilt and regret, burdening yourself excessively with the problems of other people, shows weakness and not strength? It is not God’s will for you to live on day in and day out carrying around guilt and regret.
God’s will for you, actually, according to what Jesus said, is for you to abide in him, to live in Him, – to locate yourself, your identity, in who HE is – to learn to see yourself the way HE sees you.
John 15:4 (MSG)
4 "Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
Now earlier I gave you some dismal words to think about: Loss, sorrow, self-reproach, inadequacy, wrongdoing.
Now I want you to think about one more set of words.
Good news, freedom, recovery, release, favor
Did Jesus come to bring us loss, sorrow, self-reproach, inadequacy, and a constant sense of wrongdoing? Let’s see what Jesus came for.
In his first message ever given in public, Jesus said these words:
Luke 4:18-19 (NIV)
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
Good news, freedom, recovery, release, favor
This is what Jesus said he came for. Jesus came to bring good news, as an alternative to all the bad news you feed yourself. Jesus came to bring freedom, as an alternative to the slavery some of us are in to our regret and guilt. Jesus came to bring recovery of what you have lost – your innocence, your faith, your ability to trust, your dignity. Jesus came to proclaim God’s favor of you – which means to tell you that though you are weighed down and burdened and guilty and full of self-reproach, God loves you, God favors you, God wants to give you good news, bring you freedom, help you recover what is missing in your life, release you from whatever chains you are carrying around, unburden you from the weight of all that guilt, all that regret.
A life focused on past mistakes is a life lived outside of God’s plan for us. Now it is core to the Christian message that we ARE guilty of wrongdoing, that we DO need a Savior, that we HAVE sinned and fallen short of God’s plan for us – but it’s also core to the Christian message that Jesus has freed us from our sin, that we can be released from the prison of our past. Look what Paul wrote in Romans:
Romans 8:1 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
Get that? No condemnation. What that means, my friends, is that though you may have shamed yourself, embarrassed yourself, hurt yourself or someone else, made a stupid or sinful decision that brought dreadful consequences, God does not condemn you if you are centering your life in His, abiding in Him, remaining in Him, making God’s vision for your life your primary goal.
Notice it does not say that if you center your life in Christ you will never feel condemned – it just says that whatever condemnation you feel will be an illusion. The reality is that God does not condemn you – and will not condemn you. So when we live in the past by constantly focusing on our mistakes and sins, wallowing in our guilt and regret, we clinch our fists and tighten our hands and cannot receive the freedom, the release, the recovery of what we have lost, and the favor God wants to shower on us. Living in a state of guilt and regret is a form of sin – it causes us to miss what God has for us. Far from showing we are spiritual, it shows we are not willing to receive God’s forgiveness, to embrace God’s grace, to confess our sin and admit our need for a Savior, and then receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that starts not when we die but right now on this earth while we still live. When we wallow in guilt and regret, we are listening to a voice that is not God’s at all:
Revelation 12:7-10 (NLT)
7 Then there was war in heaven. Michael and the angels under his command fought the dragon and his angels.
8 And the dragon lost the battle and was forced out of heaven.
9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, "It has happened at last—the salvation and power and kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ! For the Accuser has been thrown down to earth—the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night.
Who accuses you? Who causes you to wallow day after day in guilt and regret and to relive your mistakes day after day after day? Not God, that’s for sure. Revelation refers to the accuser as the Devil and as Satan and calls him the one who accused our brothers and sisters before our God day and night.
What does that look like? It looks like me going through my day trying to focus on God and God’s blessings, remaining in Him, locating my life in the center of His, and the Accuser whispering in my ear, “You hypocrite. You said those awful things to Christy and yet you presume to get up front and preach God’s word? Who do you think you are?” And he accuses me before God as I stand in God’s presence. And if I listen, then two things happen. First, I keep beating myself up for those awful things I said, that I have already asked both God’s and Christy’s forgiveness for. Second, I could be brought to a place where I could believe the spiritual thing to do is leave my job – surrender my ministry because I’m not spiritual enough, not good enough, I’m too hypocritical.
Some of you right now are playing that game, listening to the one who accuses you before God day and night. You think you’re not good enough, you believe you’re a hypocrite, you sometimes think you shouldn’t even be serving in ministry because you’re not a good example. If that’s the case you are listening to the accuser, the one who accuses you before God day and night. Remember, Romans says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ – it does not say you will never FEEL condemned – Revelation makes it clear the Accuser will condemn you all the time. But what it says is that you will never BE condemned. There IS NO condemnation for you if Jesus is your forgiver and leader. In that case, condemnation is an illusion and a lie.
So if that’s the case, then to live in the past by constantly dealing with old regrets and wallowing in guilt is to ignore spiritual fact – that you are not condemned – and embrace the lies that are told to you by the accuser.
That’s why we must know God’s word. Some of you have never heard Satan – or the Devil – called the Accuser before, but it’s right there in black and white. We must know God’s Word and believe that what God says is true – that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ – that Jesus came to bring good news, freedom, release, recovery, and God’s favor.
If Jesus is not your forgiver and leader, you can change that today. You can ask him today to forgive your sins, to bring you his freedom and release, to tell you the good news that you are not condemned.
Let’s close with this. As we have looked closely at regret and guilt this morning I think about the emotion of shame they often leave us with. The sense of embarrassment, of humiliation, we feel when we have said or done something really awful, really stupid, really painful to ourselves or others. You know when you are ashamed or embarrassed, you just want to hang your head, don’t you? You know – hang your head in shame. You want to look at the floor. You want to not make eye contact with the person involved because you’re embarrassed. Let’s just do that for a minute. Will you hang your head in shame with me? Just hang your head for a minute. Feels terrible, doesn’t it? No one wants this feeling. No one wants to carry around the heartbreak of guilt and regret and the corresponding shame and humiliation. So I want you to keep hanging your heads this morning because I want to tell you that the goal of today’s message hasn’t necessarily been to rid you of all your pain. Bad decisions and hurtful words will cause pain we will have to learn to live with. But as you hang your head this morning I want to show you how the shame, the pain, of regret and guilt puts you in exactly the place you need to be to do just what you need to do with that guilt and regret, and I hope you will do it with me right now –
Because of you, Jesus, my head is hung now not in shame and regret but bowed in gratitude for all you have done for me. I have listened too long to the one who accuses me in your presence day and night. I reject those accusations and thank you that there IS no condemnation because of the price you paid to buy my freedom and release me from the chokehold my past had on me. Thank you for that good news. I surrender my regrets and my guilt to you and ask that you would free me from the control they have had over my life and my way of thinking about myself and about you. Thank you, God.
Some of you have not yet asked Jesus Christ to be your forgiver and your leader. I want to invite you to do that right now by praying this prayer in your heart along with me.
God, I know I AM guilty of wrongdoing. I know I HAVE sinned and that my sins have driven a wedge between you and me. I don’t want that separation anymore. Jesus I’m sorry for all the sin in my life that has separated us from one another. Thank you for paying the price for my sin through your death. Holy Spirit, I invite you to be the leader of my life, to show me how to learn to live my life with you at the center. Thank you for hearing my prayer, and teach me what to do now. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer and meant it in your heart this morning, today a new kind of life begins for you. We want to help you get started in learning about that new life and receiving the freedom and forgiveness God has for you, so if you prayed that prayer, would you meet me right after church in the teacher’s lounge, first room on the left down the hallway? I just want to talk to you briefly and help you take your first steps.