Letting Go of Regret
“But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” ~ Gen. 19:1-26
Regret is a common emotion. Scripture is full of unhealthy family portraits that showcase decisions that end in regret. Joseph’s brothers certainly regretted selling him into slavery when they found themselves at his mercy later in life. David regretted his affair with Bathsheba when he was faced with the enormity of his sin.
Yet, both of these family pictures portrays how God can take a regretful choice and turn it into a God-honoring moment. Joseph triumphed when he showed mercy to his undeserving brothers. David restored his relationship with the Lord and is listed as a man after God’s heart in Hebrews 11.
Regrets can be about something we did, or something we didn’t do. Focusing on past mistakes clouds our ability to see the present clearly. And, we have learned from Scripture, God is capable of restoring order and justice when our mistakes and poor decision-making skills have driven us into the gutter of regret. According to a web survey, a slightly higher percentage of people feel regret over inaction, rather than action. Regrets, both active and inactive, often feed a defensive attitude that has no place in ministry.
Regret and ministry are words that go hand in hand. The more I observe ministry dynamics, the more I understand how often we hurt one the ones we are called to love and serve. Most churches have a collection of failed plans, hurtful statements, and a general feeling of dissatisfaction within the family body. Yet, despite past hurts, this is the church family through which you need to honor God.
As a woman in ministry I have regrets. As a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter I have regrets. I regret how I’ve handled confrontation, and how I’ve avoided confrontation. I regret holding on to bitterness, and nurturing a selfish heart. I regret failing to step out in faith, and I regret running ahead of God.
Like Lot’s family my regrets surround both action and inaction. I wonder what kind of regrets they felt. Did Lot regret offering his daughters to the angry mob? Was Mrs. Lot regretful she was compliant? Did the junior Lot’s regret leaving behind their betrothed? And what was the Mrs. looking back at?
The collection of regrets held by the Lot family mirrors similar regrets held by many church families. Let’s recap their story and observe the similarities. On the previous night all the males (old and young) surrounded the Lot homestead to rape the two visiting angels they presumed to be mere mortal men. The pressure to send these visitors into the mercy of the evil crowd was so severe that Lot offered his virgin daughters as a substitute.
As a mother I cannot imagine living in a culture where this may have been an acceptable solution. As a daughter I cannot fathom being an offered sacrifice. As a wife I cannot envision remaining passive in similar circumstances. As a woman I cannot understand looking back when finally free of such sin.
How many small moral compromises lead up to this large one? How often had Lot and his wife compromised their faith and sacrificed family to appease ungodly neighbors? The depravity in Sodom and Gomorrah was intense. The corruption was so extreme that neither parent heard the horror in Lot’s offer.
It’s easy in ministry to make small moral compromises. We can probably all name at least one high profile minister that has publicly fallen. It’s not a far reach to assume the action that caused their eventual downfall was not their first step away from the narrow road. It’s easy in life to be influenced by our worldly surroundings.
Thankfully, God intervenes. He prompts His angels to pull Lot back into the safety of his house and gives the angels an order to destroy the sinful cities. What a picture of God’s grace! Despite their poor parenting skills and past concessions, God sees something worth redeeming in Lot’s household.
When the angels inform Lot of God’s plan to spare his family and offer him sanctuary in the mountains, Lot hesitates. HE HESITATES! Despite the indescribable evil that camped on his doorstep the previous night he hesitates to leave. The angels encourage a speedy exit, but Lot drags his feet and barters. “Not the mountains, I’ll die! Let me go to this small town and live.” God mercifully extends this grace to Lot’s family.
Why did God even bother with Lot’s family? The guy is so influenced by his sinful surroundings that he would sacrifice his daughters. He hesitates to accept God’s mercy. He barters for what he feels is a better deal from God. Talk about ungrateful!
How many times do I hesitate to receive God’s grace? How many times do I hesitate to offer grace? I have a lot in common with the Lots. And, I have a lot in common with the people in my church. Salvation is a result of God’s mercy, not my own merit. I am saved by grace and I do not deserve it. Despite the frustrating events that sometimes surround ministry, God sees the redeeming qualities He has placed in His children and He wants to give us every opportunity to run toward the safe place He has provided within His arms.
I believe the Lot clan is like many of us, aware of our lacking spiritual state, but postponing the work of change. They wouldn’t be the first family to see a need for transformation, yet fail to accomplish it in a timely manner. And you are not ministering in the first church filled with people struggling with postponed transformation. How we cling to our sin, our hesitations, and our desire to look back.
As the family fled for their lives, they had one command. Don’t look back. Lot never looked back. His daughters never looked back. But his wife, well, what was she thinking?
Finally free from the surrounding evil Mrs. Lot should have been rejoicing, eyes fixed ahead on a future provided for her by God. But, she looks back. Was it curiosity? Was it longing for her belongings? Was it pity for lost neighbors? Personal experience leads me to believe that the Mrs. looked back with an inclination to go back to her home, to her friends, to the comfortable life she had made there. How often do I drift backward toward comfortable sin? How often do I regret harsh words and thoughtless actions only to repeat them the next day? How easily am I drawn back into harmful sin patterns?
I connect with Mrs Lot. There are many things that draw me backward instead of forward, such as a reluctance to forgive, memories of past hurts, and dissatisfaction with the present. It’s easy to justify selfish decisions.
I can almost hear her train of thought. One glance. It won’t matter. I’m leaving aren’t I? That should be enough. I’ve ridden that train. I’ve justified disobedience. One look. One comment. One thought. One act. It won’t matter. I think: This is a small sin. But it does matter.
That one backward glance was an act of wilful disobedience to a direct command from God. Don’t. God wants our eyes forward, focused on the finish line. And when we wallow in self-pity, throwing God’s mercy back into His face, His response can be swift, just, and final. The Mrs. turned into a pillar of salt forever preserved as a monument of God’s vengeance to all who look back. “This pillar of salt should season us. Since it is such a dangerous thing to look back, let us always press forward” (Phil. 3:13-14).
What can we learn from the Lot family? Ministry dynamics mimic family dynamics. A church that struggles with past regret can focus on the future and look toward God for freedom. God sees the redeeming qualities He has placed in your church family, and He desires nothing more than to offer forgiveness and extend mercy to enable healing and compassion amongst His children. And finally, rash decisions can cause great regret. Although you cannot force another party to change, you can change how you respond to hurt, how long you hold on to bitterness, and how often you dwell on the offense.
When God offers an escape from a painful past, and an escape from sinful choices, accept His offer of grace. Press forward and never look back.