In a few days, we will be into a New Year. What kind of year would you like to create for yourself? (Pause…and answer that question please). You don’t have total control of all of your external circumstances, but you do have a say on how you will see them, handle them, or whether or not you will trust God in them. Those parts have a whole lot to do with how your next year goes. More about that next week.
Today’s question comes from a familiar place of guilt and fear. Guilt over making a mistake. Fear of missing out on God’s best. Regret over past choices. Many of us live in these emotions of fear, guilt, and regret for far too long.
Today’s Question: I married a man I knew I shouldn’t have married, but I was just too chicken to call it off. My parents paid a lot of money for the wedding and I thought I was having pre-wedding jitters. I’m now married 22 years, have three kids that are wonderful, but I have this nagging feeling that I disobeyed God and missed His perfect will for my life. Our marriage isn’t horrible, but I know I could have done better had I waited. How do I resolve this guilt that I missed God’s best?
Answer: One of the areas I find that many people agonize over is the thought that they have made a terrible mistake and as a result, have forfeited God’s best for their lives. Perhaps like you, they think they should have married someone else, or not married the person they did.
Maybe they wish they had chosen a different career path or a different location to live. Now they feel trapped, wishing they could go back, do it over and make different decisions. Over the years, some of us may have made bad choices, ones that directly contradicted God’s word. Other times we have tried hard to discern God’s will, but still end up unsure, questioning in hindsight whether we made the right decision.
Here’s an example: Sam was offered a wonderful job opportunity with a new start-up company in California. He prayed about it, had the endorsement of his wife and kids and other good friends, and believed that God was giving him the green light to accept this new job.
Sam and his wife sold their home and moved from Florida to California but after only five months the company went out of business and Sam and his family were left with no income, no benefits, and a lot of bills from the move.
“I really thought I heard the Lord tell me to move,” Sam said as he scratched his head bewildered. “How do you ever know what God’s will is or if you’re making the right decision?”
Like Sam, most of us look at temporal things—like success, personal happiness, and a good outcome to confirm that our decision was in line with God’s will. Had Sam and Sam’s company prospered Sam would not have doubted his decision as God’s will. No one who is happily married second-guesses whether she married the right person. We believe that if something is God’s will, good results or blessings will follow. If bad things happen then we conclude it is because we stepped out of God’s will.
But is this thinking Biblical? For example, the apostle Paul thought he was doing God’s will by going on a missionary journey but ended up being shipwrecked (Acts 27). Jesus did God’s will and ended up crucified.
Could it be that God’s will is not discerned by looking at the temporal benefits of a decision but by looking at the eternal results? What if God’s primary plan is not to make us successful or prosperous in this life, but to make us more like His Son in the messiness, uncertainty, and pain of this life?
[Tweet “What if God’s primary plan is not to make us successful or prosperous in this life, but to make us more like His Son in the messiness, uncertainty, and pain of this life?”]
Is it possible that Sam discerned God’s will correctly after all? Sam was to move to California with this new job, but not for any temporal pleasures or blessings he might have attained with a great job and a secure income. It was God’s will that Sam move to California because the hardship that would come from losing his job gave him and his family the opportunity to grow more of the character qualities of Jesus.
Knowing God’s will can more easily be discerned when we look directly at Scripture. Peter tells us rather simply that it is God’s will that we become holy (1 Peter 1:16). Let’s look at this idea more specifically in three spheres of our lives: The things God wants us to be, the things he wants us to do, and the personal choices we make.
What We Know (for sure) God Wants Us To Be
There are many passages in the Bible where God clearly tells us what He wants us to be. Throughout His Word God tells us to be loving, forbearing, patient, kind, forgiving, generous, thankful, fruitful, humble, honest, obedient, faithful, self-controlled, pure, and a myriad of other descriptions of godly character traits that He’d like us to develop.
In these passages, God tells us directly and specifically who we are to be or become. The apostle Paul tells us to be “imitators of God and live a life of love” (Eph. 5:1). These Christ-like character traits are not learned from books or by sitting in church but are often gained through the trials and tribulations that God allows in our life that stretch us and work out our spiritual muscles so that we might grow to be more like Him.
What We Know (for sure) God Wants Us To Do
Furthermore, His word already tells us a great deal already about what we are to do as believers. For example, He tells us to pray without ceasing, to love our enemies, to bless those who hurt us, to speak the truth in love, to spread the gospel, to help widows and orphans, to encourage one another, to submit to one another, to glorify God, to bear one another’s burdens, to overcome evil with good and more. These Christ-like character qualities are to become the attitudes and actions of the Christian who wants to be holy and thus be in God’s will. So often we agonize over trying to figure out God’s will when He already tells us ninety-nine percent of what we are to be and what we are to do in the Bible.
[Tweet “So often we agonize over trying to figure out God’s will when He already tells us ninety-nine percent of what we are to be and what we are to do in the Bible.”]
Personal Choice Within The Wisdom Of God’s Word
Making personal choices is the last sphere of knowing God’s will. It is often the one where we struggle the most. Should I go to Christian College X, Christian College Y, or Secular University ABC?
Do I become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or missionary? Should I marry Tony or Dave?
Sam’s decision about moving to California to take the job offer fell into this category. This type of decision is usually made using a combination of God’s word, wisdom, the counsel of others as well as our own personal preference. It is sometimes in this area where we question whether we have made an awful mistake and missed God’s will.
Like you, Sally always doubted whether she married the right man. Jim was a believer but at the time she married him, Sally wasn’t quite sure he was God’s best for her. For years she doubted her decision. As a result, Sally felt trapped in a marriage she thought might be less than God’s absolute best for her.
However, if we believe that God’s preeminent will is to conform us to the image of Christ, then for any decision that we make God can and does use for that purpose. This does not mean we should throw caution to the wind and make reckless choices. The book of Proverbs tells us the benefits of making wise decisions and the consequences of foolishness.
However, you need not fear that if you have made a decision that results in difficulties or hardships that God’s will has been thwarted. This is true whether it’s because of foolish decision making, like marrying outside of God’s clear guidelines, or because you stepped out in faith believing something was God’s will like Sam did when moving to California.
As a result of moving out to California and then losing his job, Sam and his family have the opportunity to pray more, to forgive and love their enemy, to trust God more than they ever have before. To develop and practice perseverance and patience, to overcome evil with good and move their faith from head knowledge to living, dynamic trust. Is this not God’s will— Plan A par excellence?
[Tweet “God can and does bring us back to his Plan A—his best plan for our lives because He never deviates from that plan, no matter what decisions we make.”]
God can and does bring us back to his Plan A—his best plan for our lives because He never deviates from that plan, no matter what decisions we make. He reminds us in Romans 8:28 and 29 that He causes all things, the good decisions we make as well as the bad ones to work together for our good for those of us who love God.
Your question is how to resolve your guilt that you may have chosen the wrong man. Friend, dwelling on the should of, could of, would of possibilities of your marriage choice, keeps you stuck in disappointment, guilt, and regret. Might you have been better matched with a different man? Sure. Is that a guarantee of a long-term happy marriage? No.
Often we define our good as temporal happiness or personal satisfaction. But God defines our good as being conformed to the image of Christ (see verse 29). That promise has no time limit.
Dear one, there are no Plan B’s. God’s promise is that He who has begun a good work in you will finish it (Philippians 1:6). If you focus on that instead of what might have been different if you chose differently, I think you can be free from your guilt and regret.
Friend, when you have doubted or feared you are on God’s plan B, what helped you get back on track?
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Thank you, thank you with tears in my eyes. This is where I have been stuck. I have confronted the emotional abuse (after many years) and have seen his growth, but have so many regrets. I pray for the strength and wisdom to move forward.
Thank you for sharing this perspective. I grew up being told I had to find God’s perfect will for my life in every decision. I agonized over every decision I made. In reality, most of them weren’t worth agonizing over, and I probably would have made better decisions if I wouldn’t have been so distraught from agonizing over everything.
After reading this, I’m reminded of the translation of Romans 8:28 that says “In all things God works.” Not in some things, in all things. Good thing. Bad things. God Works. I’m grateful that God can take whatever good or bad decisions I’ve made and use them for his purpose.
Such wisdom! Thank you for answering a question I’ve had for quite some time and have asked God for understanding.
This is absolutely amazing! Thank you for your wonderful Godly insight! So well written! I wish everyone would read this!
I have ask this question over and over again,Thank you for answering this question. The answer brings me peace and lessen my guilt,.
Thank you so much! This article gives me the hope I need through Christ & His Word that God is still on His Throne, He’s Sovereign & in control concerning our lives regardless of what we go through or what challenges we’re facing at present. One thing I’ve learned is that through it all, it’s better to magnify His Name, & He certainly deserves it!
This is such beautiful advise, we can so easily bristle at the truth. I too struggle with hindsight but your conclusion is spot on and was such an encouraging reminder that God is perfecting all that concerns me and that he will determines my future as I stay safely in the shadow of the Almighty. Thank you Leslie for sharing Biblical thinking and helping me to critically examine my distorted thinking in such a loving manner.
I usually find Leslie’s comments very wise, but in this one I disagree. Yes, it is absolutely true that the Lord can still accomplish His purposes in our lives, no matter where we are.. but I also believe there is something as God’s perfect / best will – especially when it comes to such an important topic as marriage. In this case, there husband is not abusive (thank God!), so I assume he is a sincere man… very different from being married to an abuser.
Even then, if there is that gnawing sense of ‘having missed it’, the only way to deal with that is to bring it to the Lord, and to talk to Him about that, crying out for mercy and help.
He is more than willing to hear, and show how to take steps to live for His glory in that particular situation..
As someone who has been in places in life where I knew I had made a wrong choice (about location, housing situation etc..), there was a very clear heaviness and weariness over the whole thing. No joy, no sense of perspective.. and I had to walk out. Thankfully, it was possible without any legal ramifications. People may have looked at me and thought I was being fussy, or just plain crazy..
But, within a short while, the Lord usually did provide something that was above and beyond anything I could ask or think, either a physical place, or his instructions as to what steps to take next. The overwhelming peace and joy were all worth it, even if there were practical hardships to handle.
Always much better to seek the Lord *beforehand*, before getting into something that feels shady or not His best.
I do get it that marriage covenant is very different from simply choosing a wrong apartment, or a wrong school. All the same, I believe there is God’s best in every situation – even after we ‘mess up’..
TO NG – But if God’s “best” is to mature us and grow us up, don’t you think he allows us to make choices that we think are “mistakes” but are actually used to mature us and teach us more of his ways? Certainly wisdom plays a part in making good choices, but there are no guarantees that God’s best includes pleasant circumstances or happy feelings. Stephen preached the word and was stoned. He believed he was going God’s will, and I believe he was. But looking at externals, it wasn’t pretty. Paul spent a good portion of his time in prison. Paul must have scratched his head wondering, “Did I miss God’s best? I thought I was to reach to the Gentiles.” Yet, in that time in prison, he wrote much of his letters that later became the New Testament. I think when we view God’s best with a temporal lens – such as a great marriage (which is wonderful), may not be the only lens in which to see things clearly. So that’s where trusting God, and that verse in Romans 8:28,29 bring me comfort, that God’s best is never thwarted when we see him, even after a mistake, to work out his best in our life. We do not live on God’s plan B if we are his children. ALways plan A.
Leslie, I have great respect for you, and not disagreeing about God using our foolish or wrong choices – if we turn them over to Him.
That is a very different thing than calling all decisions equally good, or being in accordance to His will.
As a born-again believers, we have been given the ability to hear our Shepherd’s voice, just like He promises. That is, however, something we have to learn and grow to discern :)..
Often through trial and error.. but, He is gracious.
Again, I am NOT equating ‘God’s will’ with easy circumstances, or temporary comfort. Just the opposite..!
God had already told Peter, Stephen Paul, and many other disciples that they would suffer persecution.. they were ready and prepared.
My heart longs for that deep and rooted connection, where every decision and choice is based on His leading, either through discernment, or His clear voice. I have experienced that so many times, and, in many other situations, I have allowed externals to deceive me.
I’m not calling all decisions equally good or in God’s will. If I willfully marry an unbeliever, that is not God’s will. He tells me that. If I drink and drive and kill someone, that is not God’s will. If I abuse my wife or child, that is NOT God’s will. What I am saying is that God uses our poor decisions, other people’s poor decisions and life’s circumstances to teach us to trust him, to forgive, to have good boundaries, to make better decisions in the future, etc. Therefore I don’t have to live in Regret (as the woman in this question was living in her marriage) that I missed God’s perfect will because God’s perfect will isn’t circumstantial. God’s perfect will is to make us more like his Son, Jesus and his will always draw us into a deeper relationship and he can use all circumstances and decisions, good and bad, BIblical and sinful – to mature us and draw us into his will – his plan A.
I stand by what I wrote… this isn’t a place for lengthy essays 🙂
Am sure that you have made choices in your life, which brought you closer to God’s plan and purposes, and were a result of His leading. That is the whole point.. to live in a close fellowship with Him in a way that He can weave our life into something of eternal value in His Kingdom. (and I don’t mean it is always visible to crowds of people! It is HE who rewards.)
The older I get, the more I see what a huge responsibility our ability to make choices is.. and how our time on earth is limited. When I know my Father wants to revela Himself, and make Himself known through my choices, big and small, and how much they affect those around me, why would I not seek to follow His best in everything?
I don’t want to spend any more years in regret, because I have also known and tasted the inner peace and joy that comes from knowing I am following Him, and being in His will.
There is nothing that can compare to that.
Many people who have experiecned the joy and fruitfulness that come from obedience, can testify the same. It is the deep joy, even in the midst of outward
Good point, Leslie – we are living on His plan A if we are God’s children. NG’s point, I believe, was referring to the fact this man was not an abuser, necessarily, and the wife questioned her choice, probably thinking of a better life or even someone else from her past she could have married – and where that would have taken her. I have been this woman, but also within a verbally abusive marriage to which I am making steps to get out. I thought I was completely in God’s will when we married… and even convinced myself while in the marriage in order to calm my mind and heart that I needed to stay the course, I had a good and abundant life. But things progressed and got worse over time, even with boundaries and I realized I could not live God’s fullest plan for my life by staying in abuse and negativity. So things change is what I’m saying – as you both are – and we have to live ‘in the now’ no matter what decisions we’ve made or others inflicted upon us that were never part of our plan.
Thank you for giving the perspective of God’s providence even in our hardships. He is in the business of building character. I look back and wouldn’t wish many of my circumstances on anyone. No matter what the cause or where I might lay blame, fact is, the trials gave me opportunity to lean in closer to God, surrender all and see more clearly His love and will for my life.
Thank you- this was very good Biblical advice that can be put into practice.
I have a question- (somewhat along the lines of Gods plan
A & B and people pleasing)
What if you just choose to be responsible? Not for people pleasing- but more as you can help- like a parent with a special needs child- or a daughter caring for an elderly parent- foster parenting a child in need…. All these require one to change direction- maybe put your “own life on hold” for the good of another person who needs assistance.
(A bit like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” )
So where’s the line between being responsible and following
Your own life’s wishes?
As believers in Christ, We are called to live a “crucified life.” That means that in the circumstances that are given to us, by God’s sovereignty, we take up our cross and follow Him. Then He supplies us with the grace to go on. It’s not a matter of choice between being responsible or following our own wishes. It’s about living for Christ. Then He becomes our life and we are fulfilled in Him. He will direct us to do according to His will; if that is to help a sick neighbor or attend to the needs of a spouse, then His grace supplies us, whatever that is. Then through those experiences, we mature in life and become more like Him.
Brenda, focus on the good that God has given you through this marriage. Thank and praise Him for those things. The more we pay attention to what is true, honest, praiseworthy, etc. (Phil. 4:8), the happier we will be.
I can’t remember where I heard this, and I don’t mean for it to sound as if I am taking this at all lightly, but I think there’s some truth to this statement: “How do you know whether you married the right person? Check the names on the marriage certificate.” I feel like I ignored red flags. I have regrets. But no unwise action in my part can ever undo God’s good plan. When He brings good from a situation, it sometimes doesn’t look the way we might expect. But He always brings good from any situation for those who trust Him. This truth was most evident at the cross of Christ, but it is also true in our lives. I might not have wanted what I got in my marriage and family, but I did get a stronger faith. My trials have forced me to cling hard to Jesus and know Him in a way I wouldn’t have known Him if everything had been smoother. Falling for the lie of “maybe I made a mistake and now I have to undo it” can actually lead us from merely an unwise action into blatant sin. We can trust God that He is in control even when we made a poor choice.
I should clarify that just because those two names are on the marriage certificate doesn’t mean it has to stay that way forever. If he is an abuser, unfaithful, or the like, you are free to leave. But even then, there’s a sense in which that doesn’t mean your marriage was outside God’s will. God uses everything in our lives, good and bad, to grow and shape us.
Exactly, and we can trust God to make the next right choice that that may mean having good boundaries or exiting an abusive marriage, not only for our good, but for the good of our children and the ultimate good of our abusive spouse.
It is so good to have a community like this to flesh out challenging topics in an honest yet respectful manner.I have wrestled with how to frame my failed marriage to an emotionally immature man who never left his childhood family in order to cleave to me and make his own family his priority.Thinking it wasn’t Gods will or Gods plan A or best for me leads to bitterness and regret and seems to be what the enemy of my soul wants for me.I had such an aha moment when I read Leslie’s comment that Gods will isn’t circumstantial but that we are transformed to be more like Jesus.We are all on our individual faith journeys and “ see through a glass darkly” as the KJV puts it- at best an imperfect vision of reality.We are all learning to love and trust our Heavenly Father more and more as Jesus demonstrated in His perfect obedient life.I have gained so much clarity from this community and this has helped me to rethink many incorrect doctrinal messages I believed were biblical and “ godly”
I am glad to have come across this. However my situation is I thought I had married the right man. We are both believers. I thought I was doing God’s will when we got married and our wedding, even though we ran off and got married, couldn’t have been any more perfect if we had planned it. It took a turn shortly after that when emotional abuse and physical abuse entered the marriage. This brings me to how the lady feels in this story. I struggle with believing that we were in God’s will by getting married, knowing what His will is for a marriage and knowing what is taking place in the marriage is neither of the two. We have been married now for 3 years. He has a small child from a previous marriage that is now picking up on these behaviors and copying them and the emotional abuse and physical abuse continues. It tears me down and has ruined me emotionally and at this point I am at a crossroad. I want what God wants in a marriage and I struggle with believing that we were in God’s will when we were married and believing that God would not want any woman to put up with any kind of emotional or physical abuse.
You aren’t required to stay married to an abuser who refuses to change. Have you read Leslie’s book, “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”? It’s a good starting point. So is contacting your local DV shelter.
Of course you wanted marriage, Liz. It is a beautiful thing when it is a mutual endeavor rooted in love. What you are experiencing is not marriage. The first episode of emotional, spiritual and,/ or spiritual abuse was when the marriage ended. He broke the vows. You are free to leave the relationship. Based on what you have written, I hope you get legal and social assistance to remove yourself from his grasp ASAP.
You don’t have to struggle with knowing God’s will. It’s never God’s will for you to be abused. What is God’s will? For you to not be in an abusive marriage. You are free to divorce in the face of abuse.
Women who marry abusive men are often from abusive homes. Our barometer for pain and suffering is not normal, but we don’t know that. We are often overly responsible and have a high pain tolerance. Our boundaries are not normal and we are often never slave and martyrs in our marriage. We twist biblical teaching, often distorted by patriarchy and endure suffering as if God requires it. This is what I call self imposed spiritual abuse. The answer lies in trauma education, boundaries classes and personal counseling with someone who specializes in abuse. Otherwise, we stayed trapped in Christian evangelical jargon, rather than the truth.
I wrote the above post because I disagree with the some of the comments and platitudes I read from other bloggers in this particular post. Believe me, I have said some of the same things the bloggers did. Platitudes and Christiansen to “take up your cross” and “Chosing God’s Best” are nonsense statements that aren’t biblical. Yes, I have heard them from the pulpit, yet let’s think about this. Unless God speaks directly to you or sends a prophet or an Angel, you made your choice, not God. He gives free will because he wants to live us, not control us. So….did you chose God’s Best? Who knows and who cares? It seems very egocentric to think like that. What do others think about this?
There is no such thing as “self imposed “spiritual abuse”. That’s victim blaming. To call any kind of abuse self-imposed is to suggest it’s the victims fault, which does nothing but heap further abuse on her. Many women in abusive marriages didn’t grow up in abusive families. The actions of abusers are already to commonly justified, allowing him to get away with it, making it more destructive than it was to begin with. It’s reasons like this that make it so difficult to heal from. Be an advocate for the abused, not an advocate for an evil man who chooses to abuse someone he vowed to love.
Tiffany I’d encourage you to read my blog this week about blaming versus taking responsibility. I think it will help you understand more clearly the difference.