I was alerted to an Ezine article this week that I found interesting. The article is written by a woman named Bronnie Ware, who worked for years in palliative care. What that means is that, day after day, she cared for people who were essentially beyond the hope of reasonable recovery, ready to die. Ware’s article details the general observations she made about humans in this severe condition – with 3-12 weeks or so to live. (Article can be found at http://bit.ly/bFqdpZ)
Through her experience, Ware found that in addition to seeing patients go through an accelerated type of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), she also observed 5 common regrets of the dying. Fascinatingly, they would seem to strongly support a biblical worldview. When people live according to the Christian faith, they theoretically would not encounter such regrets. Here are the five she found:
1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. – No where in the Bible is there any recommendation to try to live to make the world happy. There is NOTHING in Scripture that suggests you will ultimately find reward in achieving status in the world’s eyes. On the contrary, the Apostle Paul encourages the notion of heavenly citizenship rather than earthly status (Philippians 3:20). And Jesus says in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” In other words, as a Christian, my primary concern in life is whether or not I’m “right” with God – which I am through Christ. Trying to please others and become whatever I think the world wants me to be is not only impossible, but potentially spiritually dangerous. You’re at your best when you allow yourself to be yourself and be okay with that. You’re not going to be very good at trying to be something you’re not anyway.
2) I wish I didn’t work so hard. – We covered this in some detail several weeks ago in “Give Yourself a Break” (see: http://bit.ly/cnPWqo). I would challenge someone to let me know how they can consistently put in 70-80 hours/week and still be faithful to the numerous other things God has called them to be faithful to, e.g. God himself, family, personal health. Talking about the time and energy and resources that he had put into the great projects that he’d worked on, near the end of his life, King Solomon said this: “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Solomon seems to grasp that the “things” he’d put his hand to, in the end, really didn’t mean much. Although labor is an important part of life and laziness is offensive to God, valuing projects more than relationships and things more than people is totally backwards from what God created us to be.
3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. – “Teachable moments” is a phrase that I often heard in my education. It’s when someone senses that the circumstances are right for another person to experience tremendous growth. How many people do you currently know that don’t “know” Christ. I’m a pastor, so you’d assume that I mostly know “church people”. Yet, I can probably conservatively say hundreds of people that I have connections to don’t currently have true faith in Jesus as their Savior. A self-focused attitude (i.e. personal inconvenience) or fear of rejection are typically the main culprits that deter me from sharing my Savior with others.
I’ve come to HATE missing the opportunities that the Lord gives me to share him. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle writes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Just imagine what it might be like someday to have someone tap you on the shoulder in heaven and thank you personally for loving them enough to introduce them to Jesus, so that they too can enjoy eternity in paradise. Pretty cool stuff.
4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. – Very similar to the point on working too much (#2 above) is the thought of losing friends. The connection is that typically, assuming there hasn’t been some sort of fall out, the main things that cause friendships to deteriorate are distance and busyness. And with our society becoming increasingly mobile, distance isn’t as big of an issue. The clear primary reason then is “no time” for friends. Again, humans get confused about this very quickly – the thought that things make me happy rather than people. Almost every major study on this suggests otherwise. People and relationships are simply worth more than things. This is one of the reasons why Jesus encourages us to give away earthly things in order to improve relationships: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
5) I wish that I had let myself be happier. – In Luke 12:25-26, Jesus says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” I can’t begin to tell you how important passages like this one have been to my life. Why do we waste so much time choosing to be miserable? It’s nuts! By failing to recognize that we’re humans who don’t do everything perfectly, by attempting to live according to the world’s standards, and by getting caught up in the here and now and failing to focus on the life to come, we, in essence, are choosing not to be happy. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you“ (1 Peter 5:7). Relax! 80 years from now we’re simply not going to care about the things we currently tend to care too much about. Jump to the inevitable – stop caring so much about earthly concerns right now – you’ll be taking a huge stepping in allowing yourself to be more happy immediately.
Finally, the item that Bronnie Ware left off of the list – because it is the most common regret of those not nearing death, but rather those after death – is not recognizing Jesus as my Savior from sin.
In Luke 16, we hear of a rich man who valued his earthly riches more than anything. He died loving those riches. And he went to the place where people who love things more than God go, hell. He begged and pleaded that he might somehow communicate to his brothers the truths of saving faith, but it was denied him. Imagine the regret. Eternal torment. All you had to do was believe in Jesus. And now, there’s nothing you can do. And you can’t even save your loved ones. Your life was a complete and utter waste.
Never underestimate the power of anticipated regret to turn your life around. This was the theory behind Scared Straight, the Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature in 1978. The documentary showed hardened criminals serving life sentences telling juvenile delinquents the harsh realities of a life of crime. The concept was so popular that it was implemented in many state juvenile correction programs.
The point is, anticipate your life continuing the way it is for the next 20 years. Would there be any regret? Most important, spiritually speaking, would there be any regrets? In heaven, no one has ever uttered a word of regret regarding study of God’s Word, sharing Christ, or carrying out God’s will while on earth. However, in hell, many regrets undoubtedly have been cried for a failure to do such things.
We can learn a TON from the dying. Let’s learn from their regrets. Let’s also learn from the regrets of the dead. Christians have plenty of promises from God to allow us to live free from regret. So don’t regret tomorrow the failure to embrace God’s blessings today.