Rev. Jeff Wood, First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian
Dr. Amy Summerfield of The Miami University in Ohio, works in the university’s Regret Lab. She asks, when we are talking about forgiving ourselves, are we talking about regret or guilt? Am I trying to get over regret or find forgiveness for guilt? What’s the difference? She says that regret is when you missed an opportunity (I had the winning lotto ticket and I lost it down the garbage disposal!). She says that guilt is when you failed a moral standard (I got an abortion.) I think we might say that with regret, I hurt me. But with guilt, I hurt you. Or God.
Interestingly, Dr. Summerfield notes that regrets can have upsides or downsides. The downside is that you keep kicking yourself, and kicking yourself, and kicking yourself with nothing to show for it except anguished living. I could have had the lottery! Augh. I could have had the lottery! Augh. I could have had the …. The upside of a regret, however, is when it has you saying, “Lesson learned; I won’t make that mistake again.” Keep lottery tickets away from the sink.
Most of the time, I think, when we are using the word “forgive,” we are talking more about our guilt. You slept with someone, you smoked something, your stole another thing, you belittled, you betrayed, you lied, you said awful things … and someone suffered.
What do we do? The Bible basically knows nothing of forgiving ourselves. There forgiveness is relational – between persons. I offended God and to get back on track with him, I apologize, and he forgives me. I offend another and to get back on track with them, I apologize and they forgive me. Or vice versa. That’s what forgiving is in simple terms.
The place to start in moving from self-condemnation related to failing or hurting someone is to ask for their forgiveness, and God’s forgiveness. That will go a long, long ways toward bringing us peace. We cannot change the past, but we can confess it. And we can ask God, then, to bless our future.
Rev. Jeff Wood, First Presbyterian Church
1405 Louisiana Ave Sebastian FL 32958 (772)589-5656