Have you ever walked through a cemetery?
It’s kind of a morbid question. But I think most of us have been to a cemetery at one point in our lives.
When I walk through the headstones, I read the names and the dates. I notice the brief words families choose to use to describe those they love.
I see the flowers sitting in front of a grave, fresh enough to know a loved one was there not too long ago.
But my mind goes somewhere – the same place actually – every time I’m in a cemetery.
I begin thinking about regret.
I wonder to myself what regrets were taken to the graves on which my feet now stand.
The Science Behind Regret
We all know the taste of regret.
The decision we look back with bewilderment. “What was I thinking?!”
The words which spilled out of our mouths before we could take them back. “Where did that come from?!”
The relationship we sustained, knowing it wasn’t right for us. “How could I have been so dumb?!”
A research study from Cornell focused on the nature of regret and the passage of time. The study concluded our regrets change over time.
In the short-term, our strongest regrets tend to be the bad decisions and unwise words.
As a pastor, I’d refer to those as “sins of commission.” These are the moments we look back and think, “I was an idiot.”
But the researchers from Cornell found that over time, those regrets begin to fade. I’m not sure the reason for this. Maybe we stack up so many of those, we find it difficult to regret just one.
But as those kinds of regrets fade, another brand of regret eclipses them and become powerful in our minds. These regrets have the potential to haunt us in the latter period of our life.
In the long-term, we most regret our missed opportunities.
We regret the chances we didn’t take, the risks we lacked the courage to embrace, and the shots we threw away.
As a pastor, I refer to these as “sins of omission.”
Regret is often the subject of conversation with those in their final days.
Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse who worked with the dying, explored this subject in her book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. In her best-selling book, she found the following five regrets most common in her patients.
The Myth in the Church Regarding Grace and Consequences
I recently launched a new teaching series at my church entitled Becoming Courageous. (You can watch the first message in the series here)
In preparing for this series, I’ve been thinking a lot about courage. My hope for forgiveness in all the places I’ve blown it is God’s grace, which available to all mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
My hope for forgiveness in all the places I’ve blown it is God’s grace, which available to all mankind through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But, I also believe that while God’s grace covers my sins of commission and omission, grace doesn’t remove the consequences of those sins.
Yes, God often redeems what I’ve broken for good in beautiful ways.
However, throughout the Scriptures, I see countless examples of people who lacked the courage to seize God-given opportunities and they had to live with the consequences.
While the vast majority of those who visit this site are followers of Jesus, I know some readers here are not. If you’re like some of my friends who don’t share my faith, you know the frustration of listening to your friends who seemingly excuse their bad decisions with the expectation God will bring a Magic Eraser behind them.
That’s not how God works.
Sure, God does work all things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But Romans 8:28 never calls all things good nor does Paul in that oft-quoted verse mean to imply that even he can escape the consequences of his sins in this life. Neither could Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, or King David.
I’ve already missed moments and opportunities in my life which I’ll regret when my final days come. I’d rather not add to that list endlessly and needlessly. I doubt you want to either.
5 Reminders About the Courage We Need Today
If we want to avoid a life overflowing with regret, then we need the grace of God and a heap of courage.
I recently re-discovered five important reminders about courage as I reviewed my Evernote files and my blog archives. These reminders aren’t original to me, but I pass them on to you with the hope that you’ll step forward with courage today.
1. The path of least resistance doesn’t lead us to the life we want.
“The reason I think Typically Hazardous is important is that (I’ve come to realize) nothing I have done that has led me to the life I want has been easy or safe.
If I can equip people through the podcast and have conversations with people that inspire them to move toward the hazardous for the sake of the good, then I will have unleashed people in a way that I have been unleashed my whole life…”
Hank reminds us that while easy and safe is our natural gravitational pull, it’s not the path to the destination we were created to pursue.
2. Our best work and most important contributions come from our discomfort zone.
Michael Hyatt has been a coach and encourager from a distance for me, both as a leader and a writer. During the first iteration of his podcast, This is Your Life, he discussed the importance of choosing to live in your discomfort zone.
“The discomfort zone is the place where the growth happens. It’s where the solutions are. It’s really where you’re going to feel fulfilled, and you’re going to realize your purpose. Our natural instinct, if we’re normal, is when we into that discomfort zone, when we kind of cross the trip wire and we find ourselves in the discomfort zone and feel the fear or anxiety or some other negative emotion, is to retreat.
So we’ve got to train ourselves to say, ‘No. The discomfort zone is good. When I’m in that place that makes me uncomfortable and having that conversation with somebody that makes me feel uncomfortable, or I’m taking on that project that makes me feel uncomfortable, I’ve got to acknowledge that this is a good thing.’
You want to be in the discomfort zone intentionally, and if you set your goals inside of the comfort zone, you’re probably not going to follow through on them, because they’re not big enough to excite your imagination and really give you the juice you need to complete them.”
Michael builds on Hank’s idea that our comfort zone is bad, but he also cautions us that beyond our comfort zone is an equally bad space where we’re delusional.
Somewhere between the two is a place of tension, where we’re uncomfortable enough to be stretched. That’s where we want to live.
3. We can be courageous and afraid at the same time!
Allison Fallon is a brilliant writing coach, best-selling author, and ghostwriter. I met Allison while visiting Nashville in January 2016. During a chat we had a couple years ago, she helped shatter a myth for me about courage, which I think too many of us buy into ourselves.
“First off, I think it’s a bit of a myth that we’ll reach a point where we suddenly feel courageous. Courage comes in tiny doses, and usually comes right along with shaking hands, a squeaky voice and a pounding heart.
And what I’ve found is that when we put off our creative work, the anxiety we feel (which is different than fear—it’s constant and pressing) grows. So you can choose to be scared now, and do that thing you’re putting off, and experience the growth and peace that comes afterward. Or, you can choose to avoid the thing that scares you now, never have to feel that stomach-turning feeling of fear, but choose to be underwhelmed and unsatisfied with your life and feel that low, dull ache of anxiety all the time.
That anxiety comes from living incongruent with yourself.”
“Underwhelmed and unsatisfied” is a good description of too many people I know. Those are words I’d have chosen to describe myself in too many seasons of my own life. I love how Allison calls us to live a life congruent to ourself – fitted to our sense of identity, calling and purpose.
4. Knowing others are counting on you and cheering for you creates more courage.
Stephen Brewster unknowingly inspired my first ebook, The Greater Than Challenge. He’s been coaching and leading artists and creative teams for nearly two decades. In a conversation we had a couple years ago, Brewster made this reflection on his own leadership journey.
“Community & Leadership are probably the 2 things, besides a LOT of prayer, that have helped me beat fear. When your team needs you to make decisions based on faith, it motivates you. Also, when you have amazing people in your life challenging you and cheering you, it will give you a lot of ammo to beat those voices in your head.
Who will be impacted by your courage? Who believes in you and is cheering you forward?
Put those names and faces in the front of your mind. You’re doing this for them and because of them.
5. Courage is stronger than fear.
One of the gutsiest people I know is Joanie Faust. I met Joanie after her first miscarriage and walked with her through her second. We celebrated when her son, Rex, was born healthy and strong. Our family prayed and supported the Fausts as their son, Bear, was born in an emergency situation and fought for his life in Neo-natal ICU (a place our family knew all too well from the birth of our twins).
I spoke to Joanie last year (before Bear’s birth) about her battle against fear and how she moved forward with courage.
“I was always (and will forever be) terrified of losing (a pregnancy), but that fear wasn’t powerful enough to push me away from something I felt I was destined to do and something I wanted so badly. That’s not to say I’m anyone special because I was able to push through it, it’s just what happened. If anything, I think I’m more fearful than most, but as much as humans are equipped to be afraid, we’re also equipped to be courageous. Fear is strong, but a person is stronger.”
I love Joanie’s reminder. Yes, we have it in us to be afraid and to respond with fear. But we are also capable of tremendous courage.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.
We’ve been equipped to be courageous.
What’s Your Next Courageous Step?
I can remember my dad repeating a mantra in his sermons growing up (he’s been pastoring the same church in Las Vegas for 35 years). He repeatedly said, “We are all either headed into a crisis, in a crisis or headed out of a crisis.”
All of us have opportunities where we can be courageous. Those moments will produce fear in us and present us with a choice.
We can seize the opportunities and become courageous. Or we can add more regrets to our list.
What’s your next courageous step?