Living with Regret and Brokenness
Regret and guilt can easily begin to take over life when conflict creates broken relationships. Conflict does not happen in a vacuum—poor choices and character flaws contribute to the experience of brokenness. People can become fixated on their unwise decisions and mistakes and the regret they feel over them. Glass Animals vocalizes this strain of regret in the chorus of “Heat Waves:”
Sometimes, all I think about is you
Late nights in the middle of June
Heat waves been fakin’ me out
Can’t make you happier now
The author of the song, Dave Bayley, says “Heat Waves” is meant to be reflective. In an interview, he states, “this particular person [in the song] changed my life and everyone has someone like this…that [they] are missing.”1 Bayley has a point: many people have someone they are missing. However, for Bayley, this longing is not merely missing someone, it is mingled with regret. Some unnamed conflict has broken a valued relationship, ending in separation and heartache. Bayley says, “I have been in that situation. I know that no matter what I did and what I could imagine doing [better] for that person…I could not be what they wanted.”2 So he sings:
You just need a better life than this
You need somethin’ I can never give
Dwelling on what we could have done better in a broken relationship points to a deeper desire, a desire to see the relationship restored. Conflict and damaged relationships are inescapable, even for Christians; however, what we think we should do when they happen is a question of worldview. Bayley offers one of the world’s solutions to interminable guilt: sentimentality and escapism.
Usually, I put somethin’ on TV
So we never think about you and me
But today, I see our reflections clearly
In Hollywood, layin’ on the screen
People practice escapism in many different ways to distract themselves from reality. Bayley likes to “put somethin’ on TV” to escape thinking “about you and me.” Others listen to music, go shopping, indulge in excessive eating, read novels, or hang out with friends. However, no matter what is done to escape reality, reality does not change. According to Bayley, turning on the TV allows people to live in a “blurred version of reality…on purpose because it’s carefree and comfortable.”3 However, when this version of escapism fails and reality is seen clearly, Bayley reverts to sentimentality in an effort to avoid the pain. He equivocates his life and experience to the movie that’s “on the screen.” In doing so, he becomes sentimental. Rather than reality, sentimentality offers only “the dubious chance to feel, while bypassing the messiness of any real human experience: not too much feeling but too thin an experience.”4
Living with a sentimental or escapist mindset is like living in the mirage Glass Animals describes at the beginning of the song. For those living without a Christian worldview, there is no authentic hope for redemption or peace. So, living in a “blurred vision of reality” is best, because it is “carefree and comfortable.”5 Glass Animals accurately describe what this pain feels like, but the Bible offers a much better way to engage our conflicts and brokenness, one that does not leave people with unresolvable regret. Where Glass Animal offers escapism and sentimentality, the Bible offers forgiveness and restoration.
Christians, Regret, and Conflict
The gospel makes peace a possibility as an alternative to living with ensnaring guilt and regret. Pastor Ken Sande, the founder of Peacemaker Ministries, writes in his book Resolving Everyday Conflict about the role that the gospel plays in bringing peace. Although peacemaking is nuanced in each situation, Christians can experience peace and reconciliation because they are at the heart of the gospel.
Conflict begins when “you are at odds with another person over what you think, want, or do” (James 3:13-4:2).6 It is okay to have natural differences that come from God-given diversity, as those differences are not the natural source of conflict. Rather, it is our sinful nature that makes conflict disastrous. Because of our sinful nature, “all of us say and do self-motivated, self-centered, sinful things—and those things all trigger conflict.”7
What is important to remember is that according to Jesus, Christians should be known for their unity and love for one another as they pursue truth. The way in which Christians respond to a conflict should show that we are Jesus’s followers.8 He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Later, in John 17:23, Jesus prays for believers, “that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” It is God’s love that should motivate Christians to be unified and experience restored relationships, demonstrating to the world the love of God himself.9 What is beautiful about the gospel is that it is able to restore relationships vertically (between God and humanity) and horizontally (interpersonally). As Sande states, “the grand theme of the Bible is reconciliation.”10
Although Christians should always be motivated to restore relationships damaged by conflict, there will be instances where relationships cannot be perfectly restored because of abuse or violence. However, there is no reason for Christians to have to live with constant regret and guilt; we can receive and/or extend forgiveness and live in peace, even in instances where restoration is unfeasible.
If you are a Christian, you are offered forgiveness and restoration in your relationship with God. Christians are promised in 1 John 1:9, that “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This forgiveness has transforming power, allowing you to experience freedom from guilt and regret. The gospel “empowers you to treat others in the way he [God] treats you, there is not a single part of your life that escapes the impact of the gospel.”11 You can choose to love your enemies and those who have hurt you (1 John 3:16, Luke 6:27-28), to take the initiative to resolve disputes (Romans 5:8; Matthew 5:23-24, 18:15)and admit your faults (1 John 1:8-9), and to treat conflict as an opportunity to witness (2 Corinthians 5:15-21).12 It will not be as easy as putting on a movie, but restoration is at the heart of the gospel. You can experience real relational health (not just the mirage of health) because all the lasting change that happens in your life comes from what God initially did for you when he restored your relationship with himself.13
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