A few years ago, my family took a vacation to Gatlinburg, TN. It was late in the day and everyone was tired from a long day of driving. The kids were screaming in the back seat. “No, you stop touching me! He’s looking at me. Dad, he won’t leave me alone.” My wife was reading something or other on her phone as I drove. I kept peering in the rear-view mirror to make sure that the kids were not actually killing each other. Then, the glorious moment came when all of the kids fell asleep. If you have ever traveled with young children, you understand the relief I felt.
In the quietness that followed, I started thinking about what I have come to call the rearview mirror effect. I recognized that the rearview mirror is very important, but quite small in comparison to the windshield. We look in the mirror for situational awareness. We can see where we came from, but if we stare at the rearview mirror for too long, we miss what is right in front of us.
It is easy to get stuck in the past or let the past limit our ability to thrive. We talked last week about breaking the chains of resentment that weigh us down by forgiving others. But how often do we think about self-forgiveness?
How long should we continue to punish ourselves for our mistakes from the past? As I get older, I am gaining new understanding and wisdom. I don’t make the same decisions I used to. But I have felt shame in those moments when I consider the negative impact that my behavior has had on the people I love the most. I have also known the pain of making poor decisions that negatively impact my own success. I can’t stay there. If I get stuck in my shame, I create a dangerous situation, just like staring in the rearview mirror for too long. I miss important details about what is right in front of me because I am still beating myself up about unwise choices in the past. Also, I cannot be present in the moment.
Forgive yourself first. Release the need to replay a negative situation over and over again in your mind. Don’t become a hostage to your past by always reviewing and reliving your mistakes. --Les Brown
So, how do I do let go of the shame?
1. Recognize that I am human. I am not perfect and have made a lot of mistakes. I will continue to make a lot of mistakes moving forward. Recognize personal failure, but don’t get stuck in it.
2. Give myself some grace. As a Christian, I believe with all of my heart that I am forgiven by God himself. This does not give me license to keep screwing up, but it does give me assurance that I can move beyond my own momentary failures. I can recognize each new moment as it comes.
3. Apologize. When I hurt others on purpose or by accident, I have to own it. When possible, I want to repair the relational damage I have caused. I also have to recognize that sometimes my earnest apology may not be received well by others I have hurt.
4. Learn from my mistakes. The only thing I have any real control over now is what is in front of me, not what is behind. I have to look out the windshield to see where I am going so I don’t keep making the same unwise decisions.
5. Make a decision for growth. The only way to change future outcomes is to tweak my approach. I know that as I replace old ways of doing things with more productive strategies, I become stronger, healthier, and more effective in my purposes.
The 5 steps I have given here are easier said than done. If you are feeling stuck in the muck of shame and self-doubt, I encourage you to seek counsel from trusted friends and/or a professional.
You are not beyond hope, and you are totally worth it!!
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