Friday, July 15, 2016

Getting Rid of Your Old R.A.G.S.

A few years back, author John Ortberg wrote about another set of RAGS. They were resentment, anger, greed and superiority. It was brilliant stuff. I’m not that brilliant. So while I can write about other negative forces at work in our lives, I cannot come up with an original acrostic. That is why I am borrowing Ortberg’s. But my version of RAGS is composed of regret, anxiety, guilt and shame. My set is not quite as dark, but just as corrosive to the soul as any other. If this seems like a downer, the good news is that our rags do not have to define us. I have already written in my last post about how to deal with our RAGS. You can check that out here. But let’s get started on defining these rags and dragging them into the light.

Regret. I’m always amused at people who say they regret nothing about their lives and would do it all again the exact same way if they could go back in time. That seems like an unexamined life to me. We all have regrets that cannot merely be written off as learning experiences. My 1983 Afro-style perm comes to mind. They may be learning experiences, but the lesson learned in that moment that could have been learned another way does not justify the pain and damage done to ourselves, to another, to a valued relationship, or to our hair. Very often, these regrets pop into our minds and capture our thoughts just as we are in a growth transition in our lives. They haunt us and threaten to derail us. They lie to you and say you are no good and do not deserve anything good to come your way. They tell you that there is more regretting to do first.

Anxiety. This one can be related to brain chemistry more than anything else, so seeking professional help from a psychiatrist would be a good idea here. But no one is immune from anxiety. It freezes you. It keeps really good, smart, skilled people of high character frozen in their tracks from making progress either personally or professionally. It says things like, “What if you try and fail and earn the reputation of a loser?” It might say, “What if you succeed and then everyone will expect more and more and more. How will you ever keep up?” Anxiety is the voice of Eor. Of course I might be a little anxious too if my tail was attached to my rear end with a roofing nail.

Guilt. This is regret’s angrier cousin. Regret tells you, you should feel bad. Guilt tells you, you are bad. Of course there is such a thing as appropriate conviction – the sense you have done something wrong for which you are responsible that prompts you to confess, apologize and do what it takes to make it right if at all possible. Guilt is not like that. Guilt hijacks your appropriate sense of responsibility and turns it into an oppressive overseer who puts the weight of all woes on your shoulders and tells you that if there is anything not right in your world or relationships, it’s all your fault. It will tell you that you are selfish, petty, irresponsible, uncaring and too dumb even to be aware of it except in hindsight.  

Shame. Much like guilt, there is such a thing as an appropriate amount of shame that we might better describe as an awareness of our need to grow. But debilitating shame grows out of that inner voice that says you are not worth as much as others. In fact, you may actually be without worth at all. It says there is no reason for anyone – friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, church members, God – to assign any value to you at all. This is a huge lie! I have a more Pentecostal friend who would call it “a lie straight from the pit of hell.” And he’s right! We all need to be a little Pentecostal on this one.  Hallelujah! You can’t see, but I just jumped over a chair.

So what do we do with these rags that threaten to derail our lives and relationships? How do we respond to the negative emotions and beliefs that conspire to debilitate our growth? Face them. Process them. Respond to them. Here’s how.

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