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

After she finished this overwhelming story, which caused me to feel utter despair for what she was experiencing, she looked up at us and said, “Brethren, I need you to bless me that I can learn to love my new life.” She then folded her arms, bowed her head, and waited for her blessing. We administered the blessing, and the sister thanked us and went peacefully on her way.

That woman’s simple request changed my life. I have heard her words in my mind a thousand times since then as I have said my prayers or felt like too much was being asked of me. She showed me by her example what it looked like to trust God and trust in the Atonement. She really believed what the missionaries had taught her when she accepted the gospel. She believed what she read in the scriptures. She received the gift of faith that was promised as part of the baptismal covenant, and the gift of the Holy Ghost that accompanied it. She had chosen to live her life without dwelling on regret or “if only.”

Did this sister have an easy life? Obviously not. She was in the midst of some very difficult challenges. But in the heart of this storm, she decided to exercise her agency and get the most out of the experience.

We have all seen people completely withdraw from the world and become bitter and consumed by negative feelings in similarly trying situations. But rather than being a victim, this woman chose to take an active role in building the best life possible. She refused to let her husband’s betrayal destroy her trust in others or in God. She sought ways to deal with her pain rather than give in to it. She decided to learn all that she could, trust in the Lord and try to learn to love her life.

There is a quote by Robert Lewis Stevenson that describes perfectly the peace I saw as this woman exercised her faith and agency. I have it hanging in my office, and I think of her every day when I read it: “Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”

Quiet minds come as a result of our taking an active and affirmative role in our own lives. Partnering with the Spirit as we go allows us to be less confused and scared. We then are able to move forward at our own pace toward experiencing life more abundantly.

This life is not about being perfect — an impossibility here in mortality for anyone but our Savior — but rather about becoming more and more like our Father. By understanding and applying the principles explored throughout this book, we can have more peace and feel closer to heaven as we continue to learn and love.

Kim Nelson is a professional LDS therapist. He is the author of "Getting Past 'If Only': Learning to Live Without Regrets." He will be presenting at the LIFT Conference for Women on Oct. 29 in Utah County on this subject. Visit www.seagullbook.com/page-LIFT.html for more information about the event.

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