Which kind of person are you?

As the end of another year approaches, I was thinking today about two kinds of people and two ways to live. Do we live with or without regret?

When the topic of "regret" comes up, some people will tell you emphatically that they don't believe in regrets. One in particular I know says it this way: "I don't have regrets. You have to take the good with the bad, the wins with the losses. There are risks that don't turn out as you hoped they would, but nothing would be gained if you never took a risk at all. And even when you lose, hopefully you learn something." 

Then there are those of us who don't like taking risks and are hard on ourselves when we make any mistakes. Since none of us are perfect and we all will make countless mistakes over a lifetime, this group has a harder time relating to the "no regrets" type of person.

I'm in the second group. I ask in bewilderment, "How can you not regret a wrong choice? How can you not wish you could go back and do something differently?" And the response I've usually gotten is, "Because the past cannot be changed. So why dwell on it?" 

I carry regret for almost every mistake I have ever made; especially if I've hurt someone. I feel regret if words come out wrong and I could have said something better, or if I said something that could have been left unsaid. Even when trying to help, if I don't get it right, I am overwhelmed with regret. And I carry it for a long time. If I manage to let it go from my memory and then something or someone reminds me of my mistake, it's like I am handed a bag filled with heavy rocks that I can't put down again for another long stretch of my journey. Even when I know God wants me to lay it down. Even though I know He has forgiven me.

Worse yet is when regret is the slippery slope that leads to a puddle of shame. Shame is like quick sand. It's very hard to climb out of. 

If you've experienced any kind of emotional abuse (and probably even if you haven't), I don't have to tell you how powerful shame, self-condemnation and self-doubt are. Shame is one of the ways people attempt to control others. And that's why survivors are so familiar with its grip. Guilt is about behavior. But shame is about us; who we are at our core. And shame thrives like a weed in the soil of self-doubt. 

As I was thinking about these two very different groups of people today, it occurred to me that the people who do not carry regret with them through life are also not prone to feel or carry shame. They do not condemn themselves. It's not that these people don't recognize they have messed up as much as the next person and have needed God's forgiveness. It's not a lack of humility. It's that they accept their mistakes as a part of the journey. And they move through life unencumbered by the weight of wishing it could be any other way. Because it cannot. These souls are freer because it's easier to receive grace and keep moving forward when you aren't holding onto shame with both hands. This is one reason why we are admonished in scripture to forget the things that are behind and reach for what is ahead of us.

I read a quote of Betty Ford's recently. It was so powerful. She said, "Truest serenity comes when we stop seeking a happier yesterday." And when I read it, I realized this is true with regard to seeking anything in yesterday; including the longing for simply a different yesterday with fewer or no mistakes. Yesterday is what we are to forget and put behind us so we can embrace today. I don't think it means we have no memory of past events. I think it means we choose to let go of what we cannot change rather than being bogged down with what we cannot. 

When we are able to let go of the events of yesterday, we won't live any longer in regret or shame. Our eyes will be focused on the opportunity to live in hope and anticipation of the days to come. We'll live and breathe in His grace, as God intends us to. And it will be as natural as an apple tree producing apples. 

Today, as I struggled with some of my past mistakes, I felt God impress upon my heart that I cannot be in His will and carry shame because shame is not His will for me or for my life. And I don't know what my word will be for 2019 yet. But I kept hearing the word "reject" in the context of rejecting negative thoughts, rejecting shame, rejecting self-condemnation, rejecting the lies of the enemy that attack me in vulnerable places. 

Someone with greater understanding than I possess explained to me recently that we are more susceptible to attack and judgment from the enemy in areas where we have been guilty of judging. That's why we are instructed not to judge the hearts of others. I am not a judgmental person. But in that moment I recognized parallels in my own life; areas and contexts in which I may have judged others close to me, in my heart, for their behavior (especially when it hurt me). In hindsight, I realize that sitting in judgment can be subtle and we can be unaware that we are in fact making ourselves the judge of another. But there is only One who knows everything about any of us and only He has all the facts with which to judge a human heart.

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is projecting shame onto you or triggering shame in you, know that that is not God's will for you. Our sins and our shame were nailed to the cross and Jesus bore them in His own body so that we could live in the freedom of His love and grace. He does not condemn us. And we can't receive His sacrifice while living in self-condemnation. 

I'm sharing this tonight because I know what it feels like to fight this battle. I struggled with it today. But I also felt God fighting for me today and for my freedom as He spoke His truths to my heart in that still small voice I know as His. And I know there would not be so many books on this subject if I were the only one who struggled. I believe God said these things to me for me, but not only for me. Someone else needs to read these words.

Let go of everything and everyone that would keep you bound in shame so you can receive the grace that is available to you. You cannot hold onto both. It's one or the other. And if you do occasionally pick your bag of shame back up, just discard it as quickly as you can because you are not intended to carry it. 

"It is Your love that defines me..."