We all struggle with regrets during the Christmas holidays. Maybe we wish we could give more to our family or that we could give back more to others. Perhaps we wish our lives were as perfect as everyone else’s lives seem to be or we simply wish we were happier. For some of us, we wish we weren’t still struggling with the same things we promised ourselves we’d quit last Christmas. For others, we wish our family relationships weren’t so broken and dysfunctional.
In the first Christmas story, we see not only authenticity and regret (when Joseph decided to divorce Mary in Matthew 1:19), we also see a way to move past regret, from the angel’s message to Joseph. Here are four steps to keep regret from ruining your Christmas:
1. Bring your regret out into the open. This comes from when the angel Gabriel first said to Joseph, But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Matthew 1:20).
I love how the angel cut right to the chase. He brought Joseph’s fear right into the open. What would happen if he took Mary home? Could he trust her? What would the neighbors think? Would he ever be able to truly accept this child as his own? All of those fears wrapped together became the regret that caused Joseph to pause and even regret the whole relationship. The angel goes right after that fear and brings it into the light. The reason this is so important is because if we allow our fear or our regret to terrorize is in the dark, then it will be like a boogeyman under the bed. The regret will paralyze us with shame and fear and keep us from moving forward.
Could you name your regret now? Could you write it down and bring it into the open? Light brings clarity, grace and hope. If you can bring your regret out into the open, you can begin to find healing. So, what’s your regret? Is it a past decision that still haunts you? Is it that worst part of your personality that gets you into trouble again and again? Is it starting that relationship that you wish you would have never started? Is it getting married to your spouse? Is it your broken, dysfunctional relationships now? Is it your current financial mess? What do you regret? Regret doesn’t have to ruin your Christmas. Step one is to bring your regret out into the open.
2. Find the purpose behind the pain. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
The angel gave Joseph the reason behind his regret: it was serving a greater purpose. Yes, Joseph would have to walk through some difficult relational times with Mary and his friends and family, but the purpose was worth it: to bring forth the Messiah, the promised one that would save his people from their sins. For many of you, your greatest purpose will come from your greatest pain. I’ve seen this happen again and again, that God wants to redeem your greatest regrets and pain and give them great purpose.
3. Take the next step forward. How regret ruins your Christmas (and beyond) is that it paralyzes you. You don’t think you can move forward. One of the most important things you can do is take a next step forward, even if it’s a baby step. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife (Matthew 1:24).
I love how Matthew records this. “Joseph did what the angel commanded him to do.” The way it’s written, we’re still not sure if Joseph was completely on board. He might have been doing it under protest. But he took the next step. He followed through with his commitment to Mary. In the same way, when you take a next step forward in your faith, whatever that is, that’s you making a conscious decision that your regret is not going to paralyze you anymore.
Your next step might be to call a family member on your way home from church and say, “We need to talk.” Maybe your regret isn’t something you can make right, maybe it’s deep in your past or the person has died. You still need to be free from it. Find a church, lean into community and take a next step forward in your faith.
4. Walk wisely. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus (Matthew 1:25).
Regrets are messy. You can’t let them define you, but you have to acknowledge them. Joseph didn’t pretend like Mary wasn’t pregnant. She was and it was obvious. So, he walked wisely. He waited.
If you’re a recovering alcoholic and you’re getting your life right, just because you’re on the right track now doesn’t mean it will ever be wise for you to go out on a Friday night and go bar hopping with your friends, no matter how good you’re feeling. Walk wisely.
If you’ve broken trust in a marriage or a close relationship you don’t just get to say you’re sorry and pretend like nothing happened. You have to rebuilt trust slowly. If your regrets are due to poor choices you’ve made in the past, you can definitely move past your regret, but there are always consequences to your choices, so walk wisely.