Making Mistakes is Different from Feeling Regret


Did I hear that correctly? I was on a treadmill or I would have stopped dead in my tracks with the force of such a simple statement:

Making mistakes is different from feeling regret.

I had never thought along these lines before. It is possible that I don’t need to regret my mistakes?

I have felt that way for most of my life. One of my greatest fears is not being good enough:

  • good enough for God to want me,
  • good enough to avoid eternal punishment,
  • good enough for other people to like me,
  • good enough to have friends who really want to be my friends.

For a long time, every mistake was a nightmare. Childhood mistakes and immaturity sometimes still try to haunt me. Wondering why I wasn’t able to be the mom that could help my children stay strong in the church as we endured a very bitter divorce from their father. Thinking that God wouldn’t have put me in that kind of a situation to fail them, but somehow I did. Wanting to have opportunities to go back and explain what I was thinking when I hurt people deeply — even when I know they’re not in a position to ever understand.

Until I heard this offhand comment about mistakes and regrets, I had just always figured that I would have to resign myself to feeling better about all of these things after I die and am resurrected.

So, what should I really regret?

Having pondered this for about a week, I think the only things I really should regret would be classed as “open rebellion.” In other words, I knew, with no doubts, what was the right thing to do, and I decided to do it, anyway.

I had another class to think through, like my decision to skip going on a mission. For a time, I really felt called to go on a mission. I was too afraid to go. I was afraid of how my nonmember parents would react. I was afraid that it would be more than I could handle. I was afraid it would hurt my educational opportunities. I stayed home and got married right before I graduated college.

What happens when we fear? We make bad calls, and we make mistakes. Mistakes have consequences, and I have received mine from not serving a mission. However, the sadness and regret from these circumstances can be temporary. We can repent. We can learn. We can grow. All we have to do is turn to Christ and seek to learn from his hand.

Then, we have opportunities to receive tender mercies like I received recently: the Lord very specifically spoke to my heart and my mind that my efforts to raise and parent my children have been accepted by him, even though they were far from perfect. It turns out that I was learning during those years, too.

Is an “oops” attitude enough? No.

Repentance is a process. One of the best sources I have ever found to understand what true repentance requires is found in the LDS church’s addiction recovery manual. The first and biggest principle is recognizing that I, on my own, cannot overcome the worst of who I am. I can’t undo the mistakes and I can’t fix the hurt I’ve caused myself and others.

That’s the role of Christ. He has the power to turn everything that occurs in our lives (and in the lives of those we have hurt) to good. In a way, I can say that I have had no bad experiences in life because I have been able to learn and grow because of them — once I learned to turn to the Lord and start handing things over to him.

It’s something to ponder when I take the sacrament tomorrow.

Have you had experience overcoming regret through the power of the Atonement? I’d love for you to share in the comments!