Have you ever done something you deeply regretted? We all have. Afterwards you probably asked yourself: how can I avoid doing that again?
We can scarcely get through life without making a myriad of mistakes, but I don’t think anyone, including God, expects us to. If you find yourself regretting something you have done, consider taking these five steps:
- Clearly identify and face what you regret
This can be tough. It’s much easier to bury unpleasant memories, but until mistakes are recognized, they can’t be healed. My mother often reminded me of the quote from Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” So be honest with yourself and examine your motives. I prefer to have that discussion with God:
Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God—exalted be His glory—wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 24.
- Let yourself experience your regretful feelings
Recently I felt great uneasiness in my stomach as a result of a situation I regretted. I realized that I unintentionally hurt the feelings of someone I love. Looking back, I can see now how insensitive I was. I realized I could not make the pain of this awareness go away. There was no other course at this point but to “be” with the emotion for however long it took—so I allowed what was inside me to rise to the surface, be acknowledged and healed:
The next time you lose heart and you can’t bear to experience what you’re feeling, you might recall this instruction: change the way you see it and lean in. Instead of blaming our discomfort on outer circumstances or on our own weakness, we can choose to stay present and awake to our experience, not rejecting it, not grasping it, not buying the stories that we relentlessly tell ourselves. This is priceless advice that addresses the true cause of suffering—yours, mine, and that of all living beings. – Pema Chodron
Have you noticed a pattern in life? Here’s how it works: the same lessons and tests cross our paths with different scenarios until we master them. If we let awareness seep in deeply, when the opportunity arises in the future, we will be less likely to make those same mistakes:
Tests are a means by which a soul is measured as to its fitness, and proven out by its own acts. God knows its fitness beforehand, and also its unpreparedness, but man, with an ego, would not believe himself unfit unless proof were given him. Consequently his susceptibility to evil is proven to him when he falls into the tests, and the tests are continued until the soul realizes its own unfitness, then remorse and regret tend to root out the weakness.
The same test comes again in greater degree, until it is shown that a former weakness has become a strength, and the power to overcome evil has been established. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 45.
- Take responsibility
Consequences organically result from all our actions—so we all need to take responsibility for those actions. As I meditate, I offer no excuses and try to see myself with compassionate detachment. I attentively acknowledge and abide with it, not with guilt or shame, but with loving presence. We need God’s mercy when we make mistakes, but we also need justice when we do things that are hurtful or wrong. If we had no remorse, or there were no discomfort involved, we would not learn any lesson. If fire did not burn we would not know that putting our hands in it was bad for us:
O Son of Being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou are summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to account for thy deeds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 11.
The price of greatness is responsibility. – Winston Churchill
When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy. – the Dalai Lama
- Pray for forgiveness
We are like babies learning to walk. When the baby falls, the mother does not reprimand and punish him. She looks at him, delighted that he is trying, and encourages him to get up and try once again. The Baha’i teachings say that God, in His mercy, is patient and forgiving with us:
Wherefore, hearken ye unto My speech, and return ye to God and repent, that He, through His grace, may have mercy upon you, may wash away your sins, and forgive your trespasses. The greatness of His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath, and His grace encompasseth all who have been called into being and been clothed with the robe of life. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 130.
- Forgive yourself and focus on “next time”
Until we have forgiven ourselves it is difficult to move on. Now is the time to move forward with resolve and confidence. We needn’t continue to dwell on the past or on the negative—instead, focus on doing better next time:
So too is paralysis engendered by guilt to be avoided; indeed, preoccupation with a particular moral failing can, at times, make it more challenging for it to be overcome. – The Universal House of Justice, 19 April 2013.
Finally, to grow you must be tolerant and loving with yourself. Distinguish the undesireable act as being bad—not that you are bad. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He is compassionate, merciful, forgiving and just. We can fall a million times and God will still root for us to get up and try again.