Godly Sorrow or Regret?
Godly Sorrow or Regret?
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Steve Wright, MA, LCPC, RDDP
Therapist, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
“I feel like such a horrible person,” the woman sitting across from me intoned with deep despair. She had been recounting all of the things she had done wrong and all of the people she had hurt while she was in her addiction. “I can’t believe I did those things. I hate myself.” She then began to cry as she faced the fact that on the evening before she had come to get help, she had forgotten to go to her daughter’s opening night of the high school play because she had stopped at a bar with some co-workers to celebrate someone’s birthday. One drink turned into two, then three and by the time her friends dropped her off at home she had blacked out and passed out on the front porch. That’s how her daughter found her that night coming home after the play. Her daughter woke her up and carried her inside while her daughter’s friends, who had driven her home, watched from the curb.
I have heard this story and countless other stories of regret in my work as a therapist. For most people who share these things, it is so overwhelming for them to accept some of the things they did. They experience such condemnation and eventually sink into self-pity.
This dear woman had been down this path a number of times. She had attempted to stay sober and determined to deal with her addiction. She had gone so far as to seek treatment on two other occasions. Each time, however, the reality of some action or other that she did while intoxicated came flooding into her mind. Her despondency and regret overwhelmed her and she would wind up drinking again in order to mask the horrible way she felt about herself. Her feelings of self-condemnation kept her tied to her addiction.
Most of us at some point are confronted with an action, or a word spoken in anger, or a selfish act that caused someone else pain. We may not have the same struggle that this woman did, but we all have something like that, some regret we would rather not face or admit about ourselves.
The Bible talks about dealing with our regret in 2 Corinthians 7:10 as Paul states, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Understanding these two concepts, godly sorrow and worldly sorrow, can help us develop the motivation to change.
Worldly sorrow, or the regret talked about in this verse, is something that tends to turn our eyes inward on ourselves. We see the hurtful things we did and then pass judgment on ourselves. We think of ourselves as a terrible person and begin to sink into despair and self-pity.
Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is about recognizing that there have been consequences to my actions. People in my life have been hurt by my behaviors and I don’t ever want them to be hurt like that again. Therefore, I am going to do everything in my power to never hurt the people in my life in that way again. Godly sorrow, sorrow that sees outside of myself, helps me become motivated to change and to care.
When regret takes over, our eyes turn inward and we lose the capacity to see how our actions might affect others. We can only see the pain and feel the shame. That pain and shame becomes something that we want to alleviate. For many, the only skill to alleviate pain is something self-destructive that causes further pain in us and in those around us. And the cycle continues.
The enemy of our souls wants us to live in condemnation and regret. Staying in that place keeps us bound to those old behaviors. Godly sorrow helps us see past ourselves and increases our motivation to change, to “repent.” Once we begin to understand that truth, we begin the process of reconciliation and healing of those relationships.
The woman in our story chose to take that path. She saw her behaviors and errors as something that impacted her daughter and others. She determined to do everything she could to change. Her motivation increased and she worked very hard and did whatever it took to get free of her addiction. Today, her relationship with her daughter is different… better. Healing and reconciliation have begun and she is experiencing a freedom she did not think possible.
Don’t let regret of what you have done keep you tied to those behaviors. Condemnation is a chain that shackles us to our past. God wants us to experience freedom by turning our eyes outward and upward so we can be set free. “Godly sorrow produces repentance and leads to salvation!”
Steve Wright, M.A., is currently a therapist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center located in the Chicago area. He served for more than 25 years as a minister working in churches with youth, families and as a senior pastor. As a counselor, he worked in residential treatment as a therapist, supervisor, coordinator, and program director first in the substance abuse field and then in the eating disorder field. Steve’s Bachelor’s degree is in Biblical Studies from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He also has a Master of Arts in Teaching from Olivet University and a Master of Arts in Community Counseling from Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago.