No doubt we have all regretted something we have done or said. It may be an emotional response lashing out in anger in reaction to a word or action. It may involve giving into a temptation or weakness. It may be a careless word offered without much thought. It may be an action lacking courage taken out of fear. It may be a misleading statement to gain an advantage motivated by greed or competitive drive.
We are all familiar with Peter’s denial of Jesus following his arrest – a denial which took place only hours after Peter had proclaimed that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison or death. When Peter realized his failing with the crowing of the rooster, “he went outside and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:62
Peter’s failings included pride in his proclamation, fear of being associated with Jesus after his arrest and deceit in his response. It is ironic that Jesus chose a symbol of pride, a crowing rooster, to humble Peter and make him fully aware of the extent of his failure.
The positive thing about regret is that it is the first step toward repentance. In weeping bitterly, Peter reveals a repentant heart, which leads to God’s forgiveness. Some commentators suggest that Jesus’ forgiveness took effect immediately upon Peter’s act of sorrow. Scripture tells us that Jesus did appear to Peter after his resurrection. (Luke 24:34) I am sure Peter sought and received Jesus’ forgiveness.
In fact, seeking forgiveness is one of the best antidotes for regret while also helping overcome the hurt and anger in the people often affected by our wrongdoing.
Over the course of my life, I have experienced both actions and words that I deeply regret. I was recently reminded of one incident in which I didn’t even realize my failing until years later. It involved an invitation from my father’s boss to a dinner to honor of my father’s retirement from the H. J. Heinz Company after 40 years of service. I had just taken a new assignment with the company I worked for in New York. The dinner was in Iowa. I thought I was too busy in my new job to travel to Iowa to be with my Father while he received this honor. To use today’s language, I was “clueless” about the Fifth Commandment’s call to honor your father and your mother, to say nothing of the obsessive self-focus that dominated my life at that time. Like Peter, I bitterly regret and weep over my failing.
While a word once spoken or an action taken cannot generally be taken back, we can take solace in David’s psalm: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12