One of the blessings of being a pastor is perspective. From my viewpoint, I get to see a bigger picture of life and meaning. A few times now, I have had to walk with people as they or a loved one has faced death. When you’re staring death in the face it has a way of putting life into perspective. In fact, over the years, I’ve worked hard to be a good steward of the opportunity that facing death provides those who remain.
Much has been made about the regrets people share at the end of their lives. And many books, articles and sermons have been written about how them. But, because it’s so far away, death doesn’t really give us the perspective it should. Not only that, but we’ve gone to greater and greater lengths to insulate ourselves from the sting of death.
1.) Never try anything new/Stop growing
I’m not a huge risk taker, but I will try just about anything once. I’m a picky eater, but I’ll still try new foods. I just reserve the right not to like said food. But, if you never try anything new, you’ll have missed out a lot.
Along those lines, if you never try anything new you’ll also stop growing. And this is an even greater problem. People think that as they get older, people should just accept them for who they are. It gets harder to change so we stop making the effort. Unfortunately, many people with tremendous potential to influence a younger generation lose their right to do so because they stopped growing.
2.) Blame everything on other people/Never forgive.
This coincides with #1 pretty well. People who never change often blame everything bad or wrong in their life on other and circumstances out of their control. What a horrible way to live. As long as everything is always someone else’s fault, you’re helpless. There’s nothing you can do to make things better. You destined for a life of victimhood.
Are there victims? Sure. But most aren’t nearly as victimized as they make themselves out to be. But, even if you are a victim, you have a lot of control in the situation. You can control your response, how you let the offense affect you and change you and whether or not you’re going to become a better or worse person because of it.
Are you truly a victim? I have been a victim of pain in my life. And what I know is that when I refuse to forgive the people that have caused me pain it changes me and not for the better. Forgive people, don’t die with unforgiveness in your heart.
3.) Make everything about you.
To be honest, this one may not leave you with much regret, depending on your personality type. The more narcissistic you are, the less this is going to affect you. The more narcissistic people I’ve known in my life have a great way at making their world revolve around them and not caring how that negatively impacts others.
But, if you’re clinically narcissistic, this is a way to get to the end of the journey and realize what a waste it was. The world is so small when you make it all about yourself. The world opens up to vast new horizons when you start sharing and contributing to the others around you.
The people who have the longest sharing times at funerals aren’t these people. The ones where you have to cut the sharing time off because it’s never going to stop are the ones who invest their lives into the lives around them. Do you want people at your death bed? Do you want people to miss you when you’re gone? Invest your life in others.
4.) Put spending time with your family off until tomorrow.
I’m guilty of this one. It’s easy to do. And, to be honest I already have regrets because of the ways I’ve done this. My oldest daughter is turning 13 this year. I don’t have a lot of time left with her under my roof.
Andy Stanley says something to the effect of “your greatest accomplishment in life might not be something you do, but someone you raise.” If you’re so busy with your stuff today that you’re putting your family off until tomorrow, you not only miss the opportunity with your family for today, you limit your families opportunities for tomorrow.
Is work really that important? Can work wait until tomorrow so your kids and spouse don’t have to wait again tonight?
5.) Think about money all the time.
Not that dissimilar from #4, but deserving of its own heading is money. We tend to be obsessed with it. We are either scheming ways to make more of it, ways to save it, ways to spend it and so on or we’re thinking about how we need it for this or that.
When you are obsessed with money you tend to make everything in your life about it. All your relationships are built around it. It determines what you will and won’t do with your family because you can’t spend it. You can’t be generous because you need it for yourself.
But, if your whole life was about money, at the end of your life all you’ll have is a stockpile of cash but no one to give it to. So the state will get it, or people who should be sad you’re gone will get it. It’s temporary. People are eternal.
6.) Worry about tomorrow.
I’ve seen so many people waste so much of their lives worrying about things they can’t control about tomorrow. It’s such a waste. Worry ruins today with problems that probably won’t happen tomorrow. And even if they do, all you’ve done by worrying about them is ruin two days instead of one.
If you make your life a habit of worrying about tomorrow, you’ll never enjoy today and the people around you right now. You’ll miss out on so much. Will some of the things you worry about happen? Sure. But, they’ll happen whether you worry about them or not. Don’t waste today with tomorrows worries!
7.) Care too much about what other people think about you and let it control you.
This is hard for a lot of people. I tend not to be too terribly driven by how others think of me. Perhaps it’s because I have usually been the last kid chosen for most things. But for some reading this, it dominates your thinking. You are paralyzed because you’ve given too much control over to other people’s thoughts of you.
The truth is, you’re not really sure they’re actually their thoughts about you. They’re assumptions you’ve made about their thoughts about you. You’re worried about what they’re thinking about you and they’re thinking about themselves. Why do we let what other people think have so much influence on our lives?
Should we receive input from people who love us and care about us? Should we trust others around us and ask for their input? Absolutely. But we shouldn’t let the opinion of too many people, especially those who aren’t really in our lives have an affect on how we live.
8.) Ask for forgiveness instead of permission.
This one is kind of a pet peeve to me. Mainly because it puts yourself and your agenda first and your relationship second. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but I promise you that you have weakened relationships by doing this.
We say “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” and it can be easier, for us. Sometimes it works out okay. Other times it’s devastating. If you don’t have the courage to ask for permission to do something for or with or in place of someone in your life, don’t do it. Focus on building the relationship first. Don’t destroy the relationship by putting your agenda first.
9.) Just live life as it comes to you
Don’t be intentional. Just go with the flow. Don’t make plans. React to every circumstance. That’s a way to get some good regret in your life. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be flexible. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go with the flow sometimes.
But, too many people waste their lives by just bouncing from reaction to reaction. You’ve been given a great gift, don’t let it slip by. Don’t let it slide through your fingers. Make the most of every opportunity. Use your strengths and gifts as best you can. Do everything you can do. Don’t stress about it and worry about it. Trust God all along the way. But don’t miss the opportunity!
10.) Waste too much time watching/playing
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Not video games. I never really got into that, thankfully. But, I’ve watched a lot of TV in my life. Watched movies many times over. I pretty much have “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Hoosiers” memorized.
But, watching too much and playing too much is allowing ourselves to be unintentionally discipled by people who have an agenda for our lives that doesn’t have anything to do with purpose. They just want to use you for their own purposes.
At the end of your life, you’re not going to wish you’d played more video games. You’re going to wish you had met and developed relationships with more people.
11.) Treat people poorly, be isolated, never get outside yourself.
So much of legacy has to do with people other than yourself. I tend to be an introvert, though not as bad as some I know. But I’d generally prefer to sit at home on the couch and watch reruns of The Office more than I would like to put myself out there and get to know new people.
But, what I know is that the things in my life that are more precious to me than my laying around time have come as a direct result of being willing to get outside myself.
And people won’t always come to you on your terms, sometimes you have to go to them on theirs. But, often the end result is a relationship that will change the rest of your life. And if the relationship never grows because the other person is to inside themselves, too narcissistic, too self-absorbed – then it’s probably okay to keep pouring yourself out there. Find someone else who’s willing to be reciprocal.
Like I said, there are more than this, but I want to leave you with one final thought:
I’ve spent a lot of time at funerals and memorial services in my ministry. I’ve been at services where there were more stories to share than there was time. And I’ve been at services where there were very few who wanted to say anything. The main difference was this, people who cared for others, loved others and invested in others are the ones people can’t stop talking about.
It’s counterintuitive, but the way to be remembered and have an impact in life isn’t to make everything about you, it’s to spend your life investing in others.