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LDS therapist: Getting past 'if only,' learning to live without regrets

By Kim A. Nelson

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 16 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

A hopeful vision of the future is what moves us forward.

Have you ever experienced the pain of regret? Have you ever revisited a past choice and asked yourself what could have been if only you had chosen differently? It’s hard to avoid such feelings sometimes, and yet if we focus on the past, we can easily begin to lose confidence. We can get to a point where we don’t trust ourselves to make good decisions.

A life without regret is not the same thing as a life without sorrow. How many times have you heard a person say about a difficult time in his or her life, “In hindsight, it was worth it”?

Perhaps you yourself have thought something like, “I’m not anxious to go through anything that hard again, but, looking back, it will always be a time I value because of what I learned.”

Life will not be perfect, but it will be better if we choose well than if we choose poorly. We want to make it as good as it can be. We want the very best our lives can offer. So we need to learn to make wise choices and to concentrate on moving forward rather than looking back with regret.

The most powerful example I have ever seen of looking forward to an abundant life, rather than backward with a mind full of “if only” questions, came from a woman I met at a gathering where I was speaking. I don’t even know her name, and I have never had the opportunity to thank her for being one of the most important teachers in my life.

The conference where I had spoken had come to an end. I was standing near the front of the auditorium when a lovely young woman in a wheelchair approached me. She introduced herself as a convert of about a year and expressed her thanks for the event.

She asked me if I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I assured her that I was. She asked if I held the Melchizedek Priesthood. I replied that I did. She then asked me if I was worthy to give a blessing. This caused me to pause and make a brief moral accounting in my mind, but after a moment, I said I was. She explained that she was staying with a non-LDS family, was a day and a half from home, and needed a blessing using consecrated oil. She assured me that she knew that her home teacher or bishop would have been the right person to ask for a blessing, but under the circumstances, I would have to do.

I asked her to wait briefly while I went to look for another Melchizedek Priesthood holder to help with the ordinance. It took only a minute to locate a friend who I knew was active and would be willing to help. We returned and asked the woman if we could find a little more appropriate place for the ordinance. We found a small room backstage that was quiet and out of the way. We had a brief prayer and asked her to tell us why she had sought the blessing.

I made brief notes later that night because her story had made such an impact on me. Although not verbatim, this is very close to what she said, based on my notes and memory. Please notice the time line of her situation.

She began by telling us that she had joined the church about 14 months earlier. Two months after her baptism into the LDS Church, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Three months after that, her non-Mormon husband left without warning; she and her children were still not sure where he was. Her three boys — ages 8, 7 and 5 — all had significant challenges. The older boys had ADHD, and her 5-year-old son was autistic. The pain from her MS and the lack of stability it caused forced her to use the wheelchair. To complicate her situation even further, she was very allergic to all pain medications except morphine.

Her state-appointed child protective services caseworker told her that if she used morphine for the pain, the state would be required to put her boys in foster care.

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