How I Handle Regret

We’ve been moving some of our things over the last few weeks, and I found a scrapbook from 2003. In the scrapbook was a copy of the first talk I gave in the ward we live in now. I gave it on Sunday, October 12, 2003. We had only been in the ward for two months. My topic was reverence.

In that talk, I told of one of my regrets. I was a student at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, now Brigham Young University-Idaho. We had been married only a few years and we had a new baby. One Sunday at priesthood meeting (our ward met in the John L. Clarke Building), a sign-up sheet was passed around on a clipboard. The sign-up was for those who wanted to sing in a men’s choir to perform at the upcoming priesthood session of the Semiannual General Conference of the Church in the Tabernacle. I held the list in my hands for a few moments and then passed it on, saying to myself that I was too busy to do it. I really wasn’t too busy, but that was the dumb little story I told myself at that moment.

A few months later, I attended the priesthood session of conference in the Hart Building where it was broadcast live via satellite to a large screen. When I saw the men’s chorus from Ricks singing in the Tabernacle, I was filled with regret.

I realized then that I could have been there in the Tabernacle on that Saturday evening. I knew then that I did have time to sing in that choir, and it stung my heart.

That was many years ago. An opportunity like that has never come my way again. It still hurts. What could have been hurts. I wish I had chosen differently. Some opportunities only come once in your life. This was one of them.

When I hear people say, “No regrets,” I always doubt it. The phrase just doesn’t line up with reality for me. We all have regrets. I have many of them. I am sure you do, too. It is part of mortality. We all have made decisions that we would go back and change if we could put life on rewind. But that’s not how things work.

I can honestly say that, while I have my share of regrets, they don’t bother me very much anymore. In the past they did, but now they don’t. Why? Because I apply two principles to those regrets. Two eternal principles. Eternal principles, properly applied, always work to bring peace and relief. Always. Those two principles of which I speak are forgiveness and faith.

When I was a bishop, I learned by observation and personal experience that it is very important—no, critically important—to forgive yourself as soon as possible for the mistakes you make, whether those mistakes result from sin or from human weakness and frailty.

(Mistakes made as a result of human weakness but which are are not sins still can hurt a lot. They need correction, not repentance. But in this post, I am classing repentance and correction under the term repentance.)

Forgiveness of self implies repentance. Forgiving yourself doesn’t work very well if you refuse to repent or you just repent a little bit. Not repenting is the fruit of pride. People who “forgive” themselves without repentance are just pardoning themselves. It won’t have the same effect as forgiveness. It won’t bring peace.

I have found that the people who fully repent of their sins have a much easier time forgiving themselves and others. Withholding forgiveness is the clearest sign that you have some things to resolve within yourself.

So I completely forgive myself for my sins, my mistakes, my oversights, my forgetfulness. I forgive myself for not signing up for that chance to sing in the Tabernacle. I may never have the chance again to sing at general priesthood meeting, but I can accept my mistake as a valuable learning experience. An unforgettable one.

I think that is one of the reasons Heavenly Father placed us on this world: To learn from our mistakes the unforgettable lessons that will guide and protect us throughout the rest of our lives and eternity.

Pain is a great teacher. Pain is our friend. It is not friendly, but it is our friend.

The second principle I apply is faith. To illustrate this, I will share a quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith:

All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 296).

I take great comfort in these words and I have faith that they are true. If we continue faithful, the Lord will make up our earthly losses. All our losses, our sorrows, all our “what might have beens,” will somehow be made up. I think those include our regrets, provided that we properly repent of what caused them.

Some of our losses can be made up in this life. I have had that happen. When God blesses you in this way, it swallows up the regret and sorrow of past experience, but such blessings often don’t come quickly. Patience is a form of faith.

So now here is the rest of the story.

In 2007, my daughter sang in the Saturday afternoon session of the October general conference in a Young Women choir from the Springville-Mapleton area in Utah. When the opportunity arose, you can imagine that I encouraged her with great energy to not miss the chance to sing in the Conference Center. It was part of my repentance process.

I was able to be in that session of conference, to watch her sing along with many other young women that I knew. It helped greatly to salve an old wound.

I have resolved my regrets. I still remember their sting. The pain taught me a lot. If I am inclined to stew over past choices, I apply the principles of forgiveness and faith, the forgiveness of self that also require repentance, and the faith to look forward to the resurrection where God will make up all our losses.

2 thoughts on “How I Handle Regret

  1. Patty Ann February 6, 2011 / 6:01 pm

    Mike, this is an amazing post today. thank you for sharing. You are right, we all have regrets. I think we can do ourselves so much harm by not learning to forgive ourselves. This was a great lesson today.


  2. Anonymous February 11, 2011 / 3:28 am

    Thank you for lifting my heart and filling me with wisdom 🙂


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