A friend asked, “What do you do? I mean with all the regrets, the mistakes? What do you do when you look back and see how much you messed up?”
I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve messed up often. In marriage. In parenting. In social situations. At church. At work. Maybe that’s why she asked me; she’s seen me mess up many times.
Once I forgot to make a wire transfer which resulted in my employer paying close to $5,000 in interest and fees. My boss’s response? “On a $125,000,000 account, that’s immaterial. You won’t forget again, will you?” He smiled kindly and said, “it’s okay. Go back to work. You are valuable here. One error won’t change that.” I never did make that mistake again. Nor have I forgotten it.
Not all my mistakes were immaterial.
And they weren’t all mistakes. Some were sin.
So, what do I do when I look back and see how much I’ve messed up? What do I do when I am grieved by my own behavior? When I am grieved by my sin?
1. I confess my sin.
Not everything was sin. But I must confess that which is sin as sin.
All sin is ultimately against God. When I sin, to be forgiven and cleansed, I must confess my sin to God. And often I have to confess to the person I hurt I hurt as well, but I’ll get to that in a moment. When I do confess, He forgives me.
(If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10)
2. I accept forgiveness from God, forgiveness He freely gives to those who ask.
God’s Word tells us He will forgive us when we confess our sin. He will. Not He might. God will forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness when I confess my sin.
I must accept His forgiveness. I must accept that I am truly forgiven and cleansed. My sin has been removed from me as far as the East is from the West. I must believe and act upon this truth rather than beat myself up or walk in shame over my confessed sin. To do otherwise is placing myself above Him, saying He doesn’t really know what is best, that Jesus’ death wasn’t enough.
Once I am forgiven, I do not entertain shame or feelings of condemnation. In Christ I am no longer condemned. I may face consequences of my sin, yet I am forgiven.
(Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1)
3. I make amends to others whenever possible.
Making amends involves apologizing and asking forgiveness, confessing that what I did was wrong. It requires honestly identifying how I was wrong and doing what I can to make it right.
But making amends is more than just saying, “I’m sorry.” It involves doing what I can to make up for what I did that hurt someone else. If I owe someone money, I pay them. If I failed to uphold an obligation, I offer to do something else for that person.
Some mistakes cannot be undone; I can’t go back and be a better mom to my kids. But I can (and did) confess my sin, ask forgiveness, and I can be a better mom from now on. This is called a “living amends.”
Sometimes it’s not possible to make amends. Sometimes the other party is not willing. Sometimes I’ve lost touch with the person I hurt. But when I can, I must make amends.
4. I accept that I did the best I could at the time.
Yes, God always provides a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) and I did not take the way out; I sinned. I accept that. (By the way, acceptance in not the same as approval. I can accept what is without approving of my wrong thinking or behavior.)
Knowing, too, that nothing happens that doesn’t go through the loving hands of my Father, I accept my failings and faults even as I work to change. As He conforms me to the image of His Son.
And I know He will use all things for my good and the good of His Body, because He is good. Along the way there may be trials and pain, yet He is still good.
Though I can look back and see my error, my sin, I can look forward, knowing the loving, compassionate God is working in my life and in lives of those around me, my family and my neighbors. He will work all of this together for His glory and our good.
(And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28)
5. I change my way of thinking and living.
Yes, I confess my sin, I accept forgiveness, I make amends, and I accept what happened without condemnation or shame, but I must also change the way I behave towards others. I must change. Or I will go on hurting others, messing up, sinning.
Confessing my sin is not simply saying, “I did _____.” I must come to see my actions, words, and thoughts as contrary to God’s way of thinking, contrary to His commands. Contrary to His command to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as Christ loved me.
I must line up my thinking with His Word. My heart’s desire must be obedience to His Word. And when I change my desires, my way of thinking, I will change my way of living. This is true repentance: a changed heart, a changed mind, a changed way of living, knowing I am loved and forgiven by my Creator.
(From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17)
6. I also pray for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like the past and the choices of others); the strength to change the things I can (such as my thoughts, speech, and actions); and the wisdom to know the difference.
I’ve made many mistakes. I’ve sinned many times. I’ve hurt people I love: my husband, my children, my friends. I’ve hurt people I didn’t like, by being a jerk. By not loving others as Christ loved me.
I’ve had to humble myself and ask forgiveness many times.
I’ve accepted forgiveness and gone back to work, to the good works God prepared in advance for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
I’ve tried to make amends where possible.
I’ve accepted that when I mess up and repent I am not condemned, I do not accept shame.
I’ve changed my ways of thinking and am working on changing my behavior.
I’ve prayed The Serenity Prayer many times.
Many of my mistakes I won’t ever forget. Some of my sin I won’t forget. Some of my messes have long-term consequences. I know I am forgiven, and I don’t beat myself over these things, but I won’t forget some things I did or the harm I have done. Remembering my actions and the pain I caused myself and others helps me not do those things again.
That’s what I do when I look back and see all the mistakes I’ve made, when I see my sin. And I thank God for loving us enough to send Jesus to die for our sin, that we might become the righteousness of God.