Have you ever wondered how romantic regret can haunt some people their entire lives?
I recently thought about this when I watched a film about an elderly woman who was on her death bed. While her daughters stood nearby, she talked in her sleep, dreamt of her youth and murmured about a young man named Harris. She later confessed to her children that he was the only man she ever loved, which is why she believed it was her life’s most tragic mistake when she lost him.
After almost 90 minutes of bouncing between scenes from the past and the present, the woman finally made peace with her romantic choices. She accepted that perhaps she hadn’t made a mistake after all, and that all things had worked out well, even though she had loved and lost.
I wish all stories of romantic regret ended so happily. Unfortunately, not everyone comes to grips with their past. Like the woman in the film, we can experience regret because we feel we missed an opportunity with someone special, or because we dated someone for the wrong reasons, communicated poorly, were unfaithful to our mate or a host of other reasons.
Unfortunately, like the woman in the film, some people carry romantic regret far too long, but God wants to give us freedom in our emotions from the pain of the past, no matter the reason.
So if romantic regret haunts you, what should you do?
Practice Taking “What If” Thoughts Captive
In my past, at Point A of a potential relationship, (he had called me once and we scheduled to meet for the first time for coffee), in my mind I was already at Point Z (I’d met his mother, birthed his babies and started folding his underwear). And in 3.5 seconds flat, I discovered numerous reasons why the relationship wouldn’t work. I would begin to panic. What if we don’t get along because I’m right-brained and he’s left? What if he doesn’t like the way I do laundry or what if thinks I need to earn more money? Like my mother says, I “made mountains out of molehills,” and reacted based on information I didn’t even have, and I let my “what ifs” carry me to the edge of insanity. In Scripture, Paul describes my response as a “vain imagination” (2 Corinthians 10:5).The word vain means “empty,” because these thoughts are not based in truth.
Not only can we experience vain imaginations and ask too many “what if” questions about a potential mate or date, but also about our romantic past. In fact, we can hypothesize so much about what might have been that we can become depressed and filled with regret.
So, what’s the answer for fighting thoughts like these that “raise themselves up against the knowledge of God?” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We have to take them captive (stop them dead in their tracks) then redirect our minds to embrace God’s truth—that He loves us, has always been in control of our lives and that He has good plans for our future (Jeremiah 29:11). This means that we have to toss aside any hypothetical possibilities that we have no answers for and keep our eyes on Christ, trust in His sovereignty and embrace His forgiveness.
Recognize and Surrender to the Sovereignty of God
Last Christmas, I traveled home to visit my family. A few days after I arrived, Mom told me that she had seen my old boyfriend and his wife at church with their children. The next day, she invited me to attend a candlelight service at the same church. As I held my burning candle and sang “Silent Night,” fresh grief of romantic regret unexpectedly filled my heart and tears filled my eyes. I thought I had put those old memories behind me, but knowing my mother had seen him there, and still being single during yet another Christmas ushered in new emotional pain.
The next day, I questioned my decision to end the relationship with a man I loved that could have led to marriage. Once again, I doubted God’s involvement during that troubling time in college. But then I remembered how I had prayed to make the right choice. I prayed and prayed and prayed if I should break up with him. I asked for God’s guidance over and over. I desperately wanted to do His will, I thought.
When I remembered how much I had prayed, I decided that I had to believe He was with me during that time even if I didn’t handle the situation perfectly. God doesn’t ignore those He loves when they ask for help.
These thoughts led me to my Bible where I studied about His sovereignty and control over all things. I found Proverbs 16:1 which says, “The plans of the heart belong to the man [or woman], But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”
I discovered that the Hebrew verb “plans” also means “to prepare or arrange.” I had tried to arrange and plan my life the best I could by ending a relationship I wasn’t certain about. Later, when I felt I’d made a mistake, regret consumed me. During Christmas when I considered this Scripture, I realized that no matter what my plans were, God had to sign off on them. Therefore, the outcome could have been different. My boyfriend could have chosen to renew a relationship with me, and God could have prevented him from meeting his wife—but He didn’t. I chose once again to trust that God was intimately involved in my life in college, and that He also has good things planned for my future (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Embrace God’s Forgiveness
Sometimes we can become stuck in relational regret because we sinned against someone and we wonder if God will forgive us. Or perhaps we were unfaithful to someone who loved us, we committed adultery or have been promiscuous. Thankfully, God is not stingy with forgiveness.
God’s tender forgiveness and grace is shown in the story of Peter’s betrayal of Christ (Matthew 26:69-75). After Peter denied Christ, and Jesus was raised from the dead, two angels appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thankfully, the angels didn’t just instruct the women to tell the disciples the good news. Instead, they told them to “go tell the disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7).
God knew Peter was suffering from regret so he sent a special invite to him. It was as if God was saying, “Peter, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Even if you’ve denied me, you’re forgiven.”
God extends the same grace and forgiveness to us if we’ve made poor decisions in romantic relationships. Even if we have not obeyed Him, He wants us to know the freedom that comes from forgiveness and grace so we can move forward in hope like Peter.
Can you imagine how Peter’s life would have turned out if he hadn’t embraced the forgiveness of Christ? He would not have become a writer of the New Testament. And rather than being a bold witness for God, he would have wallowed in self-pity and regret. In short, he would have missed his calling.
Accepting forgiveness for any sin we’ve committed is necessary to move into the future with hope. Remember that Satan wants to keep you chained to the past in regret to prevent you from fulfilling God’s plan for your life.