I wish I would have spent more time with my brother while he was alive. I wish I would have called him more often. I wish I would have listened better.
Dealing with guilt and regret can be a difficult hurdle in the grieving process.
The truth is, most of us have things we wish we would have done. And some of us have genuine guilt over things we did or did not do.
There is a difference between guilt and regret.
We are human and make mistakes that can seem more pronounced after someone dies. Guilt and regret are normal emotions during the grieving process. Often the distinction between the two seems rather muddy. Knowing the difference helps with the coping and healing process.
Guilt can occur when we consciously commit an offense against someone.
Regret, on the other hand, happens when we look back on something that we wish we would have done differently.
However, both guilt and regret have the potential of making us miserable and stuck. So, if both situations can make us feel cruddy, then why not just lump them both in the same category?
The work we need to do around guilt will look different.
In order to grieve well, we must work through difficult emotions.
Working Through Guilt
Remember, guilt stems from a conscious offense committed against someone.
Take our guilt to God.
When we sin against another, we first sin against the Lord. We must confess the offense to God for healing to begin.
“Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.”
God does not condemn and shame us.
God will convict us in order to heal us. Conviction leads us to God and healing.
Condemnation is from Satan. Condemnation points out our wrongs without offering forgiveness or a solution.
Accept God’s forgiveness.
1 John 1:9 says that if we repent and confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us.
When God gives forgiveness, that’s the end of it.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions.”
“You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Easier said than done, right? But if the Lord can forgive us, we must forgive ourselves in order to move forward. This does not mean we condone bad behavior. It simply means we have aligned ourselves with the truth of God’s word about our forgiveness. We can also ask the Lord to help us forgive ourselves. He understands and is faithful to help.
When our thoughts remind us of the guilt (and they will), we must:
- Take the thought captive before it leads to more. (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- Expose it as a lie contrary to God’s word.
- Speak out loud the truth of God’s word (Scriptures above).
Working Through Regret
Remember, regret is something we wish we would have done differently.
Let’s be honest. We all have regrets. Those quotes with the pretty pictures on Facebook that say otherwise are a crock. I mean it. So, let’s just let those go, okay?
Most of us will have regrets after a loved one dies. But staying in a place of regret will delay our healing. Grieving well means we must let go of regret.
Acknowledge your regret to God.
Tell the Lord what you wish you would have done. I like to journal. I wrote to God and to my brother about what I wish I would have done differently.
Grow from the regret.
God can work in regret to fuel growth.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
I wish I would have spent more time with my brother. I will grow from this by making relationships more of a priority in my life. I wrote about my relationship goals in my journal, too.
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” Henry David Thoreau
Shoulda, woulda, couldas are the devil.
The devil loves to point out what we should have done. Just like with condemning and guilty thoughts, we must take these thoughts captive.
As I’m traversing the grieving process, I have come to savor its fruit. Yes, there is fruit if we will look for it. This is how we will grieve well.
My friend, God is especially close to those who are grieving. It is my prayer that you will experience His sweet presence in a new and tangible way.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
I’d love to hear your thoughts and prayer requests in the comments below.
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