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What to Do with Guilt and Regrets

If only I’d been more attentive … nicer … taken better care of myself. Then I wouldn’t be alone this holiday.
Because of the divorce, my kids have very few gifts under the tree.
Why did I make those wrong choices? It’s changed everything.

You are not alone if regrets, guilt, and even shame are plaguing you this holiday season. Guilt is a common feeling after the loss of a marriage. But God offers you something that will help you find peace and freedom from your guilt.

Please understand first, though, that sometimes people feel guilty when they shouldn’t. Your feelings of guilt might have nothing to do with wrongdoing on your part; they are more like regrets.*

If the guilt you feel is appropriate, or your wrong choices caused the breakup, don’t despair! Christmas reminds us that God loves us and is willing to forgive us. He doesn’t want you overwhelmed by shame, discouragement, or self-condemnation.

Even if you did not want your marriage to end and fought to keep your family together, you still have areas in your life where you need God’s forgiveness. Because no one is perfect. The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The free gifts of forgiveness and perfect standing

You’re probably thinking, “I’m hurting enough right now as it is, and you want to talk about my sin?” Yes, because the consequences of our failures and disobedience are far more serious than people tend to think.

Suppose you’ve had an attitude with family members who were trying to help this holiday season. Or perhaps you’ve spoken harshly to your kids or coworkers. Maybe you’ve tried to get revenge on your spouse for hurting you. Even though those actions and reactions are in some ways understandable, God still doesn’t approve of them. In fact, anytime we say, do, or even think anything that is contrary to God’s will, we are guilty of sin.

What’s more is that the penalty for sin is death, spiritually and eternally: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). Hopefully now you can see why it’s critical to talk about your sin.

Now, here’s some good news …

Out of His love for you, God offers you the free gifts of forgiveness and perfect standing in His eyes through His Son. Jesus came to forgive and remove the guilt of all who admit they haven’t lived up to God’s expectations and who fully depend upon Jesus for help. Jesus, who is sin-free, transfers His perfect standing to everyone who believes that He suffered and died to pay the penalty of his or her sins.

“If you, LORD, kept a record of sins … who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.”

Psalm 130:3–4a

And the best part of all? These are free gifts—blessings no one earns or deserves.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ephesians 2:8–9

How to receive these gifts

This Christmas season is a good time to make sure you’ve received the wonderful gifts of forgiveness and perfect standing. You do that by faith, by simply believing you have disobeyed God, acknowledging your need for Christ to die in your place, and agreeing that God should be the one directing your life (1 John 1:9; Romans 10:9–10).

“Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is declared right with God.”

Acts 13:38–39a NLT

The moment you believe those things, all your sins are forgiven and you are in perfect standing with God:

“[God] has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ … And you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it.”

Colossians 1:22–23a NLT

The wrongs you’ve done should be taken seriously—anything from snide remarks or angry emails to quietly pushing someone’s buttons to hurt that person. God has graciously shown us how to deal with our sin so we can experience forgiveness. If you would like to receive the gift of forgiveness and acknowledge Jesus’ right to lead you, tell God something like this:

Dear God, I don’t always get everything right. In fact, I often stubbornly live life on my own terms. Thank you helping me to see how wrong that is. And thank you for sending Jesus to suffer and die in my place for my sins. I’m so glad that Christ lived a perfect life for me—and that You accept me as if I’ve never done anything wrong. You are the one who should direct and guide me. So I resign from calling the shots and submit to your leadership. Thank you for forgiving me and making me perfect in Your sight. Please help and comfort me as I deal with the pain and confusion of my divorce.

“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”

Psalm 103:12 NLT

“Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”

Romans 3:24 NLT

“I love that God has given us a free gift,” says Zoricelis Davila, “and it is not something that I have to work to earn. Our forgiveness and our salvation is by grace because God loves us, because He wants to give us that gift.”

Christmas can be a time of peace and freedom from guilt for you. Why? Because Christmas is when we celebrate Jesus coming to this earth, the event that made God’s gift of forgiveness possible. We celebrate the fact that, through Jesus, we can experience God’s peace and forgiveness and be in a relationship with Him, now and eternally. And if you have turned control of your life over to Jesus, that’s even more reason to celebrate this holiday season!

* Ask trusted friends, a pastor, and/or a counselor whether they think your guilt is unfounded or is based on something you need forgiveness for. Getting multiple perspectives helps.