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Receptivity and offering: Extract a lesson from regrets

Lynne Baab • Thursday March 17 2022

Receptivity and offering: Extract a lesson from regrets

“Though we would like to live without regrets, and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, this is not really possible, if only because we are mortal.”
—James Baldwin, American writer and activist, 1967

Numerous times when people have talked with me about something they’re struggling with, I have suggested they imagine that a friend has come to them with the same problem. What would they say to that friend? To my surprise, I learned that the effectiveness of this strategy is actually backed up by research. Daniel Pink mentions this research in the article on regret that I’ve been writing about for the past few weeks.

In case you’ve missed the previous posts, Pink recommends a three-step process that allows us to learn from our regrets, rather than deny them or wallow in them:

  • Reframe your regret
  • Write or talk about it (or both!)
  • Extract a lesson

When he writes about extracting a lesson, Pink says:

“The best strategy is not to plunge into your regret like a scuba diver but to zoom out from it like an oceanographer, a practice known as ‘self-distancing.’ You may have noticed that you’re often better at solving other people’s problems than your own. Because you’re less enmeshed in others’ details than they are, you’re able to see the full picture in ways they cannot.” [1]

He mentions three additional strategies that are backed by research as ways to self-distance from the endless rumination about regrets that so many of us engage in. One option is to change the pronouns. We can describe our experience using third person pronouns (he, she, they), rather than using first person pronouns (I, me we, us). We can also use the “universal you,” where we restate the story using you and your: "You feel frustrated because . . ." Earlier in the article he strongly recommends writing about or talking about our story of regret. Changing the pronouns is a fascinating strategy to try as we write or talk.

He mentions an additional research study that describes the effectiveness of imagining ourselves in the future, looking back on the regrets we are trying to process today. What might our future self recommend to our current self?

For a Christian, these strategies provide a lot of fuel for prayer. Rather than the generic “help me” prayer (never a bad idea but often not the most creative way to pray), we can ask for Jesus’ companionship and listening ear as we retell our story using different pronouns. We can ask for the Holy Spirit to enter into our imagination as we try to fly forward in time to imagine our 2025 or 2030 self looking back on the events and thoughts of today.

I began this series on receptivity and offering back in December. When I came across the article on regret by Daniel Pink, I knew it fit beautifully into the idea of receiving from God and offering our lives to God. Pink gives so many ideas that can help Christians offer our regrets to God. As we offer them, we receive the Holy Spirit’s illumination that enables us reframe them and learn from them.

After writing a dozen posts on receptivity and offering, I have been struck by the fact that most of them describe a process of offering something to God and then receiving something back from God. So perhaps the order of the words in the title of the series should have been switched  to recognize the pattern of offering, then receiving. As I leave the topic of regrets and next week discuss another way we offer and receive, I want to affirm that we cannot offer anything to God without God’s prior invitation to draw near. God is the first actor, the initiator, in our lives.

God who calls us “beloved,” thank you for inviting us into relationship with you. Jesus, walk with us as we process our regrets and try to learn from them. Holy Spirit, work in our hearts so we can find the words to talk about our regrets in ways that bring healing and renewed commitment to be your people every day.  

(Next week: Posture/stance. Illustration by Dave Baab: Tofino, British Columbia. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

The posts in this series on regrets (within a bigger series on receptivity and offering) :

[1] Daniel H. Pink, “No Regrets is No Way to Live,” The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2022.

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