I remember the rainy day I stood staring out my bedroom window looking across the street to the Baptist church I had planted. For the last three years I had poured my heart and soul into that church from conception to a self-supporting congregation in it's own building. This was no small feat. The task had been all-consuming yet quite rewarding. However, on that day what I saw across the street was not a church, but rather, my future. Instead of joy and satisfaction I felt sadness. I heard my own voice say:
"I don't think I want to do this the rest of my life."
That was it. The moment of truth. It was the first time I had admitted this. With this simple admission I gained incredible clarity: "This present reality is not what I want for my future reality." Changes had to begin immediately if I didn't want to live in regret.
Three steps to reducing regrets
1. Acknowledge your feelings.
Thanks to my first ex-gay counselor (yes, you read that right) I was learning to identify my emotions and feelings for the first time. I believed that feelings and emotions were good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, Godly or ungodly. I believed that I needed God and the Bible to tell me how to feel because my heart was deceitful and wicked and would always steer me the wrong way if I listened to it. So in the initial sessions of my ex-gay counseling I would share a story or event from my life that had shaped me. What followed was something like this:
Counselor - "And how does that make you feel?".
Me - "I don't know. How should I feel? Should I be angry? Should I be sad?"
Counselor - "There is no should. Just how DO you feel?"
Me - "I don't know. I honestly don't know what I feel."
Obviously, I was dead inside.
He sent me home with a long list of feelings words and instructed me to circle the ones that best described what my emotions. There was no "should" just what "is". This exercise proved to be difficult at first, but the more I looked at the words in moments of anxiety, the more I began to recognize what I was feeling.
2. Give yourself permission to feel.
I believe in the positive power of permission! Once I acknowledged what I was feeling, I gave myself permission to feel it. I released the judgement and rather than repressing my feelings I embraced them. Many of us have a lifetime of repressing what we feel. All our life people tell us:
"Don't be sad!"
"Forgive and forget!"
"Don't be angry."
"Turn that frown upside down!"
"you shouldn't feel that way."
By granting yourself permission, you're saying: "It's okay for me to feel what I'm feeling."
It is not uncommon at all for LGBTQ people to be told most of their life that what they are feeling is wrong, ungodly, sick or twisted. With all this judgement attached to our emotions and feelings it is no wonder we have communities full of emotionally unhealthy individuals.
The feelings you have are not a choice. They just are. What you do with those feelings is a choice. Give yourself permission to feel. Embrace it and learn from it. It's part of who you are.
3. Envision your future.
I asked myself, "If I change nothing, how am I going to feel 5, 10, even 30 years from now?" I was filled with a sense of disappointment and anger, but most of all, regret. I knew what it took to pastor a church. I knew what sacrifices it would require of me. I knew where my focus would have to be. What I saw in the future was not what I wanted. I was going to have to make big changes.
Let me be clear, in that moment I did not have all my questions answered. I did not know what I would be doing instead of ministry. I did have many fears about the unknown. But the driving force was the desire to not live in regret. I believe that most regrets result from inaction. You rarely people at the end of their life regretting what they did, more often they regret what they didn't do! You can hear it in their conversations that begin with the sentiment "I wish I would have..."
Following that moment of clarity I let myself dream. I dreamt of doing things I'd never allowed myself to even consider. I dreamt of the person I would be, the places I would go, the people I would meet, the knowledge and skills I would acquire, the experiences I would have, the relationships I would build and on and on I dreamt.
Something sprung up in me that day and has never stopped growing since. It can best be called a quest for life. I face each day with these words:
I would rather die trying than die wondering if I could have.