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Regret and Shame

The documentaries keep coming. On cults, megachurch demise and people we may have once looked up to and admired, falling from grace. Or rather, tripping over themselves while clinging to tired old scripts and defending the indefensible.

And of course, we know why this is, to admit there was wrongdoing or people were treated badly, would cause it all to unravel. It would be too painful to admit, too much is at stake. It would be too costly both literally and in terms of the lives and identities they have built. In this way I can have compassion for how trapped many of them must feel.

Over the course of 30 years, I served at three churches. All three of them have since proven not to be safe places. There were devastating and life altering one-time events and ongoing toxic patterns and theology that have caused so much damage for people. As time goes on, I hear more and more stories of brokenness and years spent trying to heal. Confusion, disillusionment and pain have left people with deep grief and anger.

I wrote about my own story of working through these complex emotions and the image most of us have of wanting to light a match, flick our hair dramatically in the wind as we start a dumptser fire and walk away. But the reality is different. We’re unlikely to see it resolved in ways we think we need it to be for healing to take place. We’ll probably never really get the answers or resolutions we want and will need to know where to draw the line so we can integrate our experiences and live the abundant lives we were always promised.

I teared up watching She Said over the weekend. The story of the journalists who took on Harvey Weinstein and exposed settlements, hush money and god-awful abuses of power (watch with care). I teared up at the satisfaction the victim/survivors must have felt to see him jailed but wondered about the work they must have done/are still doing to be free within themselves. They must have played scenarios over in their heads about sliding doors moments, different decisions they could have made, paths they could have taken, things they could have said and done to avoid the pain of being targeted, groomed, gaslit.

So what do we do with our regret and shame?

I hear so much sadness and deep grief in people’s stories. Regret that they’d stayed so long in toxic environments, or still find it hard to leave, or didn’t speak up about things that seem so clear now with better understanding and new language, better policies. I’ve felt all this too. I wrote recently about feeling our anger and much of what I wrote is true for feeling our regret and shame, we have to let it work it’s way through our bodies, connect with others, find safe places, good therapists and friends to talk about what happened. To process, put healthy coping skills in place, have a tool kit of self-care strategies at the ready.

But most importantly, self-compassion allows us to nurture that part of us that thought s/he was doing the right thing, honouring God, being loyal and faithful. We were taught that ‘love covers’, that we shouldn’t speak up against God’s anointed and we took these seriously. We were earnest in our belief and service. There is no shame in that, it’s ok. Look, maybe a little cringey, I remember my days in the church dance group, but we were doing what we needed to do to belong.

There is no shame in wanting community and belonging, of wanting to be part of something alive and growing, bigger than us, full of meaning. We weren’t stupid, we were seeking connection.

Self-compassion allows us to honour that part of us.

And regret? Life is full of regret. It’s part of being human, of trying new things, making mistakes and losing years we now wish we’d spent doing something else. It’s ok. You’re ok. You are still worthy of a life of love and meaning.

Self-compassion and some radical acceptance allow us to make peace with what’s gone before. Many of us will navigate the impact of those years for the rest of our lives, but we can re-story and reimagine who we want to be and the life we want to live moving forward. Healing is possible. Freedom can be yours.

If you’d like to read my story you can download it here. Or message me here and I’ll flick it to you if money is tight. No questions asked.

Go gently.

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