As humans, we are prone to worrying and stressing about life in the present and future leading to holistic negative effects, yet I have found myself also dwelling on memories of decisions and situations I wish would have turned out differently in order to yield results I think would have been better for my life or others’ lives. Everyone has had times of dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’ of life when we think,
“I should have taken the other job.”
“Life would be better if that would have happened sooner/later.”
“If we had moved there, then we would be happier.”
To be clear, I am not referring to tragic events which can continue to produce grieving, sorrow, and righteous anger throughout our time on Earth, nor am I addressing regrets of sin. Sin is a different topic that deals with conviction leading to repentance and freedom of guilt and regret due to Christ's atoning sacrifice and continual intersession on our behalf before the Father. If you struggle with the unnecessary regret of past sin for which Christ has already forgiven you, remember the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the freedom he gives.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Satan will use our life regrets and wishes as an opportunity to turn us away from focusing on God’s will for our lives and our future prize, Jesus. Hebrews 12:1–2, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…”
To fight these regrets and wishes, we must review our Christian worldview. God always gives me peace when I go back to the not-so-basic basics of who God is and how He sovereignly carries out His will globally and for us individually. His way is always better despite our personal feelings and opinions. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Wishing things had turned out differently misinterprets God’s providence because the root of our wish is saying that our plan would have been better than God’s plan.
If we settle in this state of frustration that our way did not turn out the way we intended, our heart and thoughts will spiral into the cycle of self centeredness, self-pity, comparison, and discontentment with where God has us in the present. These steal our satisfaction in our Maker and turn our focus to ourselves rather than others’ needs and the works God has planned for us (Ephesians 2:10). We are attempting to be satisfied by worldly wisdom instead of relying on the wisdom from above as James speaks of in chapter 3:13–18. The comparison and covetousness then put us at risk for quarreling and adultery as he explains next in James 4:1–5.
“But he gives more grace” James 4:6 tells us, so in lieu of falling into the thoughts of what “should” have been, ask God to help you remember:
- The faithfulness he has rendered to you and will continue to provide in the future.
- All aspects of your life are being used by God for your sanctification and discipline.
- His good mercy has protected you from temptation, sin, disaster, and additional suffering because your way didn’t play out.
“God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.” –Tim Keller