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emotions Archives | Chaplain | JM Faith at Work

Plucking Up the Seedlings of Regret

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I recently received an invitation to a friend’s 50th anniversay party and in inscribed in swirly script at the bottom of the card were the words Regrets Only Please. I’ve been invited to a party or two before so I know that those words are like a presumptuous form of RSVP. If I don’t respond I guess they assume that I’m coming. Do they also assume that I’m going to bring a gift? The imp of the perverse in my wanted to respond to the invitation with a numbered list. 1) I regret that I didn’t go to medical school. 2) I regret that I didn’t start putting money away for retirment 50 years ago. 3) I regret having not exercised regularly. 4) I regret not spending more time with my kids when they were growing up. 5) And more recently, I regret eating that double hot fudge sundae last night. I have a lot of regrets I could share.

Just so you know, I didn’t respond and I went to the party and I don’t regret it. The point is, we all have our regrets. Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention.” Most of us have plenty of regrets to mention; and I bet Sinatra did too. But that wouldn’t have fit well with the song those words came from, “I did it my way.” In real life, most of our regrets result from us doing it our way. Then later we realize that our way wasn’t necessarily the best way. Hence regret.

Regret is one of many negative emotions that plague us. Regrets are things that we did and wish we didn’t or failed to do and wish we did. Then they keep popping up uninvited in our minds to torture us. They happened in the past but they manifest themselves in the present. They keep playing over and over in our minds like a bad pop sone keeping us awake at night or distracting us during the day. Regrets can result from stupid little slipups that we’ve made or serious injuries that we’ve done to someone.

A lot of regrets that we have deal with missed opportunities in the past. I have a friend, in California who owned a chain of successful luggage stores. In 1971 he was on a trip to Seattle on a buying trip. He struck up a conversation with his seatmate who was beginning a new business. The guy was impressed with my friend’s business savvy and asked him if he’d like to invest in his new enterprise. David was too busy expanding his luggage business at the time, so he respectfully declined. Wait for it. His seatmate that day was Jerry Baldwin, the founder of Starbucks. For decades David has been doing the math on how much he would be worth if he hadn’t thrown away Baldwin’s business card and lamenting to his friends over who stupid he was. Talk about regrets.

Regrets, sure, I’ve gotta few too.

David’s is a “lost opportunity” kind of regret. We can also regret things that we did that shouldn’t have. In my years as a pastor I’ve had many people share their regrets with me about choices in life, many times involving their choice in a spouse. “I never should have married him. He was always too friendly with other women. Now he’s run off and I’ve got two kids to take care of. If only I would have listened to my friends.” Would’a, should’a, could’a, the refrain of regret.

You get the point. We all have regrets. The question is, how do we deal with them? How can we shut off the voices jabbering in our heads that torture us?

Buddhist monk and prolific author the late Thich Naht Hahn uses the image of a garden to describe how our emotions work, both positive and negative. He says that our emotions are like seeds buried in the garden. The seeds that we water and cultivate will manifest themselves in our lives. When we water the seeds of positive emotions like love, compassion, and joy, they will benefit our lives. Nuturing negative emotions like greed, fear, and regret hurt us. Sounds simple enough.

We have an almost endless store of regret seeds ready to sprout in our spiritual gardens (or our hearts or our psyches if you want to think of it that way). We fail to act on countless opporunities every day. While we have to make decisions on which opportunities to follow up on and which not to, it’s easy to second guess ourselves. Similarly, we are constantly doing things that would have been better off left undone. I shouldn’t have snapped at my wife when she criticized me for not doing the dishes. I wish I could unsend that angry email I sent my boss.

Fortunately the majority of the seeds of regret will never germinate. But there are some that we will water, they will sprout, we will cultivate the soil around them, and we will fertilize them until they are full grown. When they mature our regrets will flourish and cause us to suffer. They will cause us many sleepless nights and keep us from being happy.

Regrets are very unpredictable. It’s hard to tell why some of them pop up when they do. Maybe I’m suddenly obsessing over not going to graduate school because my daughter is about to get the degree I didn’t. Maybe you regret not starting your own business because your best friend just retired on a golf course in Florida after selling his real screw manufacturing company. Why is it that you feel that you’re the one that got screwed?

Anyway, let’s assume that you become aware of a regret that seems to really be grinding your gears. How do you get rid of it? An obvious solutions would be to just ignore it. Unfortunately, regrets are persistent little weeds. They don’t like to go away on their own. When they start causing enough suffering for a long enough period of time, you may try to blot them out. You fall into a deep depression and beat yourself up over your failure. But that just makes it worse. Ultimately you start drinking or taking sleeping pills or opioids to numb the pain. We all know where that can lead. There must be a positive way to heal from suffering born of regret.

Let’s go back to the garden analogy. When you notice a seedling of regret starting to grow, gently pluck it up out of the soil. Don’t throw it away. Hold it in your fingers caked with dirt from gardening and look at it. Look at its’ leaves. Examine the root system that was beginning to develop. In carefully inspecting your regret, you will learn from it. That way you are less likely to repeat the behavior that caused the regret in the first place.

Now, once you’re on intimate terms with your regret, do not throw it away. Instead, lovingly place it on the compost heap with the other negative emotions that you have weeded from your garden in the past. Let them fertilize and nourish your spiritual growth in the future. Let it help you grow a healthy crop of emotions like love, forgiveness and happiness. Gardening is a lot of work. You’ll have to keep at it. Soon, like a real gardener, you will learn to discern the desirable plants from the weeds before they get very big.

In more practical terms, when you are plagued by regret, take the time to stop and identify it. Take some time to sit quietly and ask some questions of yourself. Why is this really bothering me? What happened in the past that I regret? What is happening now that is causing this regret to bother me so much? Then you can act.

You may discover that you have some unfinished business in the past. There may be a person to whom you owe an apology. If possible, sit down with them and try to resolve the issue. If you can’t do that, write them a letter asking for forgiveness even if they’re no longer in your life or dead. Then you can let it go. Say to yourself, “My regret is a thing of the past.” I will live in the future.

If you determine that you are dealing with a “lost opportunity” regret, it may be possible for you to still take advantage of that opportnity. I could enroll in some graduate classes if I really regret not getting the Ph.D. Maybe you want to try your hand at starting your own business. Most likely we can just be grateful for what we have in the present instead of ruing the past. We do not need to suffer for the past when we have many blessings in the present.

So, in review, pluck up your regrets. Examine them and learn from them. Use them to nurture your soul in this moment. Then maybe your regrets will be too few to mention.
Now might be a good time to sit down with a pencil and piece of paper and take inventory of what’s growing in your garden. Pluck out the seedlings of hatred, regret, revenge, and all the other things that cause you to suffer. Then cultivate your garden so that love, compassion, and happiness may flourish. Sing to yourself the words of a popular Christian song, “Lord, let my heart be good soil.” You won’t regret it.

Let There Be Light

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Pastor Jim Melvin

I have good news for you, my Vitamin D deprived friends; the days are getting longer. We’ve already gained over half an hour of daylight since the sun started coming home to the northern hemisphere on December 21st. The bad news is that it’s still almost two months until spring. We have the darkest time of the year, both physically and emotionally and perhaps spiritually to endure.

It’s no accident that the first thing God created was light. Light is associated with good and life. That’s why Jesus was called “the Light of the World”. It’s no coincidence that we celebrate Jesus’ birth during the darkest time of the year. At a time when we feel at our lowest, it gives us hope to hear that light will be returning to our lives.

There are some things that we can do to help us through this remaining period of light deprivation. One of the most important things is to realize that we are not alone if we feel down or lack energy during this period. Our bodies are chemically reacting to decreased light exposure including the production of Vitamin D which takes place in our skin with exposure to light. So have hope. This too shall pass. Your feelings are normal. The days are getting longer.

In the meantime, there are some simple steps that we can take to feel happier and more energetic right now. Here are a few:

1. Get as much light as you can, natural and artificial. You can buy special high intensity full spectrum lights at the pharmacy.
2. Get outside and breath in the fresh air even if it is cold.
3. Exercise frequently.
4. Take time to enjoy the sunrise even if you have to adjust the time you get up in the morning.
5. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
6. See your doctor if you feel unusually depressed or your sleep patterns are seriously disrupted. Your doctor may prescribe anti-depressants on a temporary basis to help elevate your mood.
7. Get social. Find plenty opportunities to socialize with family and friends. Isolation worsens depression.

Those are a few physical things that may help you survive until spring, but don’t forget your spiritual life. Take time each day to pray and reflect on the light of God which dwells within your heart. Close you eyes and visualize a warm glow emanating from your heart. Remember that the promise of new life through Jesus Christ is yours.  And let there be light.

A Simple Guide to Meditation

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A Simple Guide to Meditation and Relaxation
Pastor Jim Melvin

We all must deal with stress in our lives both at home and at work. Stress is a fact of life. Some stress is good. When we face a challenging situation, our bodies get amped up and ready to perform. I was watching the Packers game the other night and I could see how stressed the players felt as they came back onto the field after half-time trailing 17-0. Stress played a large part in getting the Green and Gold’s adrenaline flowing which allowed them to march up and down the field in the fourth quarter to a victory. That’s good stress. (Although I confess to being a Bears fan.)

How do you think those players felt on Monday morning after that game? In addition to the aches, pains and bruises they had a physical and emotional letdown to deal with. The body can only run on adrenaline for a limited period of time. A constant exposure to stress and adrenaline makes us sick. High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke depression, migraines and even cancer have been linked to having too much unrelieved stress.

Stress inevitably accompanies us to work. You can probably feel it in the car in the morning as you head to work, and you start to imagine what is going to be waiting for you when you arrive. You may think about a problem left over from yesterday that you have to resolve. Maybe there is the stress of the unknown when you aren’t sure what is going to be required of you. You may be stressed about your relationship with a boss or co-worker or a subordinate. This stress can be good. You’re getting amped up for your day just like Aaron Rogers coming off the sideline. But if you don’t have a way to deal with your stress and it builds and builds, it will make you sick.

I want to share with you something that has helped me deal with my own stress for years, Meditation or more specifically Mindfulness Mediation. MM is a simple technique to help you get in touch with what’s going on in your head and your heart. A simple awareness of what’s stressing you will go a long way toward healthy coping and stress relief.

While mediation is practiced in almost all religions, it is not always used for religious purposes. Meditation is being used by more and more people as a means of relaxation, healing, and simple self-awareness. There is nothing weird or New Age about it. Men, women and children of all ages and from all walks of life can benefit from taking some quiet time to bring their lives back into balance.

I’m going to describe for you the simplest form of meditation practice that is accessible to everybody. It’s something you can do anywhere anytime you can grab a few minutes without interruption. And you don’t have to be able to twist your body into a pretzel to participate. Here’s what you do:

1. Find a quiet place where you can sit without interruption for as long as you choose to meditate.
2. Sit in a chair or on a cushion in a comfortable position. Relax your arms comfortably. I like to let my hands rest on my thighs with the palms up.
3. You may sit with your eyes open or shut; most people find it less distracting with eyes closed.
4. Take a deep breath trying to fill your lungs as completely as possible. Exhale and let your shoulder relax as you return to the neutral position. Repeat once or twice.
5. Establish a normal breathing pattern turning your attention to your inbreath and outbreath. You may want to say to yourself, “breathing in – breathing out” as you breathe.
6. Allow your body to relax while you continue your rhythmic breathing.
7. As you sit, all kinds of thoughts will emerge. You may think about something important you should be doing. Your mind may go back to something unpleasant that happened yesterday. This is normal. Don’t try to push the thoughts away. Acknowledge them and let them pass through your mind. Each time a thought passes return your awareness to your breath, “breathing in – breathing out.” Do not be discouraged if your mind will not quiet. It will improve with practice.
8. I recommend starting with short periods of sitting. Five minutes is reasonable at first. Working up to about 20 minutes is preferable. You may get the point that you don’t want to stop after an hour. You can either set a timer or alarm or just end when it feels right.
9. At the end of your allotted time, repeat the deep breathing exercise you started with. Sit quietly for a few minutes before resuming normal activity.
10. You can meditate at any time, but the first thing in the morning and before going to bed at night are good times. You can also try to grab a few minutes at lunch or other free time during the day.

There you have it. Give it a try. You can also consult books or go on-line for other ways to meditate. You may want to join a group meditation program or yoga class if you don’t care for the solitude.
Relax and be well.

Hate

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The Only Thing We Have to Hate is Hate Itself
Pastor Jim Melvin

In 1933, a time of great national anxiety, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his First Inaugural Address. The Great Depression had reached its depth and the American people struggled to find a source of hope. FDR identified fear as the great challenge to be faced by Americans and the world. He said famously, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

In 2018, although we are living in a time of relative economic prosperity, the American people are again struggling to find a source of hope. We are plumbing the depths of a Great Moral Depression that is creating a new national anxiety. Today hate is the great challenge to be faced by America and the world. Paraphrasing Roosevelt, “We have nothing to hate but hate itself.”

Hate is the most destructive of human emotions. Hate is condemned in the Bible. 1 John 3:15 says, “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.” That’s harsh by any standard. Hating someone is the same as murdering them. In modern law we even have a special classification for the most serious of crimes; we call them hate crimes.

To the best of my recollection the words “I hate you” have never crossed my lips in anger. Nor can I remember anyone telling me that they hate me. It’s likely that you can probably say the same thing. Uttering that phrase can cause irreparable damage to a relationship. We all have an innate sense of how toxic and violent expressing hate is. Hatred is something that we would associate with Nazis or the Klu Klux Klan.

It concerns me, therefore, that I hear the word hate springing up so frequently and so casually today. All too often I hear people I know and love say, “I hate Donald Trump!” Or, “I hate Hillary Clinton!” Or, “I hate Barak Obama!” Or, “I hate the NRA!” Or, “I hate the ACLU!” Or, “I hate__________.” I hate, I hate, I hate. As Taylor Swift says, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” (You’ll have to excuse me. I know that I’m too old to be quoting Taylor Swift.) These statements of hate are not directed toward people with whom we have immediate contact, so we think they are acceptable. Or are they? Hate is hate. We need to exercise caution whenever and to whomever we speak these murderous words.

Hatred is more that anger. We all get angry. Hate occurs when we let anger take root in our hearts, fertilize it, and encourage it to grow. Anger to a certain extent is inevitable and beyond our control. Hate, however, is something that needs to be weeded out of our psyches and our speech. It is always within our control.

We justify hate by pointing out the evil in another person or group of people. We may go as far as thinking that it would be morally wrong NOT to hate someone who is evil. How could I NOT hate Adolf Hitler, the embodiment of evil. How could I NOT hate a child molester. There is a lot of hate being expressed in the world today because there is a lot of evil. Or so we reason.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a person who was no stranger to hate, expressed it well when addressing those in the Civil Rights movement who expressed hatred toward their white oppressors. He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” King was in turn reflecting the teaching of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

It is a short step from hate to murder. Martin Luther King found that out. Jesus found that out. When Hitler aroused hatred for the Jews in Germany, he was able to motivate the people of that Christian country to unleash an ungodly genocide. That’s why we should fear hate. Hate kills.

Listen for that four-letter word in your speech and in the speech of those around you. Ask yourself what is generating such a vile and violent emotion. Challenge the word when you hear others use it. Strike it from your own vocabulary. If we can replace HATE with LOVE on our tongues and in our hearts, then we will have nothing to fear.