I can tell you from experience that nothing eats away at your good intentions the way regret and shame can. Carrying a load of shame associated with past mistakes will not only weigh you down, it will prevent you from even trying to reach for new and better things. The internal dialogue goes like this:
I am such a screw-up. There is no way that others can forgive me. I can’t hide what I’ve done or who I’ve become. I will always be judged by my mistakes.
Let me tell you that these thoughts are pointless and fruitless. More importantly, they ARE NOT TRUE! There is no sin, no mistake, no circumstance that makes you unforgivable or unredeemable. Allah swta is ALWAYS waiting for you to take the first step and turn around. And in all honesty. it’s often the first step that is the hardest.
Let me clear about what I mean by shame. Shame is the word we use for the feeling you get when you realize your honor or dignity as a human being has been violated, either by yourself or by others. When you do something that demeans yourself, or you become aware that others know that you have done something that is beneath you, you will feel shame.
In small doses, it is an extremely useful feeling. It keeps us from doing foul things. But it should be a PASSING feeling. One that you experience and then fades as you move away from the situation or become accustomed to the situation. The shame you feel continually is a destructive emotion.
Admitting that you did wrong and seeking to fix it is hard to the ego and the heart. It is not an easy process and you need to be incredibly strong to admit it. I recently saw a Facebook post written by a sister where she was thanking Allah swta for allowing her to fully embrace Islam. In the post, she admits that she was already Muslim when her life went off the rails. She posted a picture of herself during that time, scantily dressed, sitting at a bar with an upturned bottle pressed to her lips. Next to it was a picture of her current self. It was a complete 180-degree turn.
I don’t know what it was that made her think, “I need to get my life together” or what led her to those dark moments in the first place. But I was happy to see her being able to share how far she came, without shame. Shame would have kept her at the bar, in her dress, doing whatever she once did. Shame would have told her that those mistakes defined who she was. Now that she was that person, she would always be branded and marked as that.
Regret should be an instructive emotion. It should remind us that they things we did in the past were not good for us. However, too many people allow it become a shackle. They fear to make more mistakes and remain paralyzed. They never attempt to reach greater heights because they always remember that they failed. They made mistakes. They “wasted” time.
The truth is that we all have things in our past that we regret. The most successful people don’t allow that feeling to implant fear in them. If anything, they use it as fuel to propel them forward. They say “I wasted a decade, not praying or fasting. I don’t know how many days I have left. Today is the day I change.” Maybe they only have a few more months left on earth, but those months are extremely productive.
This Ramadan, let your regrets become your fuel. Use the to shape your goals and define the habits you hope to build during the blessed month. And most importantly, remember that you are not alone. Among the companions of the Prophet were criminals and degenerates of every kind. Only by embracing Islam did they become the exalted personalities we know today. Among the great scholars of the past are those who were once as debauched and depraved as you or I ever were. Only by seeking forgiveness and nearness to Allah swta did they get straightened out. Among the most successful callers to Islam, today are ex-drug addicts, ex-prostitutes, ex-gangsters, and murderers. None of them are beyond the help and forgiveness of Allah. Neither are you.