Shame and regret: real feelings sparked by unachieved dreams, deep awareness of flaws, old wounds from broken relationships.
They can afflict us long after the event. They can twist our perceptions about ourselves or our futures, often without us realising.
I have experienced this for sure, having suppressed and carried the wounds of a break-up from years ago. During the relationship, I had at times worn the mask of a ‘good, supportive girlfriend’, doing my best to avoid a break-up because I saw break-ups as personal failures. (Which is not what they are, by the way.) Afterwards, I adopted a new mask: the mask of a girl who didn’t show weakness over a boy. I wouldn’t, I decided, be a girl who cries.
I suppressed my own feelings of hurt and failure, and carried on as normal. I didn’t want to talk about what had happened; I closed my fists tight around the hurt, trying to hide and ignore it, squash it away.
Despite my best efforts, however, those old wounds would occasionally spike with the pain of regret, a feeling of failure, and the (false) belief that I had lost the years I had spent in that relationship.
Fast-forward a couple of years, and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, on the way to a summer camp reunion. We chat and laugh, and end up telling our stories of how we came to faith – how we came to know God and see our lives transformed by him.
I share about those old wounds. My friend just asks me, gently: ‘Have you thought about forgiveness?’
Breathe out. Quiet for a moment, a pause to think.
Yes, I had thought about forgiveness. I had thought about it, but I hadn’t let it reach those feelings of loss and pain. I hadn’t let the light of forgiveness pierce the darkness of those old wounds.
Over the following weeks, I kept thinking about that gentle question. What would it look like to forgive myself and the boy I’d been in a relationship with? What would it feel like to heal, to become more whole, in this part of my life?
Amidst these questions, God kept speaking. Through the quiet of my heart, conversations with family and friends, and powerful prayers from others, he helped me to start forgiving by showing me his forgiveness. He helped me to see that I am not bound by my past – where once my hands had clenched tight shut around those old wounds, now they can be open, empty and free because God has forgiven me and is daily teaching me how to forgive.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness of the past or the pain; it doesn’t mean a covering-up of hurt inflicted. Far from it – it’s far too real for that, something we have to choose to live every day, despite the odds. In this continual learning and choosing, God gives freedom, wholeness, and peace: ‘it is like a knot that is suddenly undone, it is like a huge weight removed from our heart, like a mountain thrown into the sea’ (Luigi Gioia, ‘Say it to God’).
Today I have more joy than I used to when I think of those ‘lost’ years: God is reclaiming my story, forgiving the bad and showing me the light of the good. I don’t know where you’re at with regret – whether you have any regrets or feelings of shame. But may I ask you that one gentle question? Have you thought about forgiveness?