The voice on the other end of the line was choked with emotion. Years of bad decisions and poor choices had finally caught up with her and she felt trapped by her past. “I feel so empty inside. I’ve made so many dumb mistakes and now I’m paying for them!”
Never having much faith in God and shunning church since her youth, my friend was clearly at a crossroads. As much as it grieved me to hear the sorrow in her voice, at that moment, I knew she was on the brink of a wonderful opportunity. The brokenhearted person who repents and surrenders to God can experience the transformation St. Paul writes about in his letter to the Corinthians: “So, whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed; behold new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17).
Not long after the phone call from my friend, I came across a study that showed she wasn’t alone in her grief; 32 percent of Americans regret major life decisions. Here’s the thing about regret: It can crush you or it can motivate you. The deciding factor is faith in — and the experience of — God’s love and mercy.
Imagine how St. Paul must have felt. The book of Acts chronicles the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. “The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). He had the blood of the martyrs on his hands. Yet, when he encountered the healing mercy of Jesus, he was a changed man and became one of the greatest evangelists of all time.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13). With God’s forgiveness and grace, he moved forward. He didn’t stay stuck in the past, lamenting his mistakes. He accepted God’s forgiveness. And, he forgave himself.
Jesus points to this requirement of not dwelling on the past, warning us that “no one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). If we’re crushed by regret, we can’t see the miracles unfolding around us. We’re blinded to the opportunity to become that new creation in Christ.
We have a powerful remedy for regret that is mostly overlooked in our frenetic modern existence: sacramental Confession. Although the Church asks us to confess at least once a year, that kind of minimalism never made a saint. There are no half-measures on the road to heaven. If we want healing in our lives, if we want peace in our hearts and the grace and strength to overcome temptation, monthly Confession is a wise place to begin.
Haven’t been to Confession in a while and feeling a bit rusty? That’s OK. God is waiting for you with open arms and longs to heal you. Sites like GoodConfession.com and CatholicsComeHome.org will walk you through the steps.
As for regrets, in the light of grace, we understand and accept that we cannot change the past, but that God has something He wants us to do today. Are you, like my friend, feeling broken and trapped? Today is the day God invites you to turn to Him. Do you regret not having children? There are thousands in foster care; maybe God is calling you to open your heart to serving Him that way. Do you regret the kind of parent you were when your kids were young? Commit to fasting and praying for them now and showing them love at every opportunity. Do you regret your career choice? Ask God to open a new path for you.
We can’t undo our past, but God can heal it, if only we’ll let Him.
Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun, and author of “Cry of Nineveh.” Comments: catholicsun.org/letters.