Do you live with any regrets?
This morning I awoke thinking about my life: what I have done and what I wish I could change. This is understandable since I am nearing the big 50 and my family and I are making a major move from the West Coast to the East Coast within the next ten weeks. It is common at these times to reflect on life. This is good…necessary…healthy.
As a pastor, I have the somewhat uncomfortable (though very precious) task of being at the bedside of many people as they face death and reflect on their lives. I have never had a person at their death ask me to drive up their car so they could take one last look at it. I have never had a dying person ask me for a photo of the house that they struggled their whole life to attain, in order to give it one last glance. I have; however, on countless occasions, had people (especially men) ask me for their kids or voice their regret for not spending enough time with their kids.
As a matter of fact, I recall… I was sitting in a class with a very prominent pastor. His church had purchased one of the largest sports arenas in our state and he had achieved a level of success that few pastors ever attain. In the middle of his presentation about the cost of pastoring, this pastor broke down. Barely audible and gasping to force out every word, he recounted all of his successes followed by the tear drenched admission that if he could do it all over, he would spend more time with his kids.
That same week, I watched an interview with the aging Billy Graham. Dr. Graham is arguably the most respected and the most impactful Christian of our time. As he was asked about his long ministry, he shared his only regret; that he would have liked to spend more time with his kids. This is a confirmation to what he wrote in his book, Just as I Am: “For myself, as I look back, I now know that I came through those years much the poorer both psychologically and emotionally. I missed so much by not being home to see the children grow and develop.”
The Bible says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Being at the bedside of those who are dying has helped me to understand this verse. Death has a way of focusing us on what is truly important in life. It is good…necessary…healthy to look and evaluate our lives BEFORE we get to our death bed because we are now in a position to make meaningful changes that will help to ensure that we do not pass with regrets.
On a personal level, I can bemoan my own upbringing as the son of a dedicated pastor and faithful church planter. My Dad was always at church during holidays and special events, including his children’s birthdays. He was always busy helping other people. It is a noble task to preach the gospel, help the poor and clothe the naked but if you ask my 84 year old Dad today if he has any regrets, he will probably cry as he acknowledges, “I should have spent more time with my kids.”
I am not bitter about this part of my childhood but it does motivate me to attempt to not make the mistakes of my father (and of almost every successful minister I know). I constantly evaluate my life in order to be as effective as possible in reaching the world for Jesus, while valuing my family and spending quality time with them.
In an effort to make this blog about more than a tirade on pastor’s shortcomings in respect to their families, I have listed the top 5 things that can help us all live a life without regrets. Of course, this is based heavily on what I have gleaned while sitting at the bedside of people who are dying but also from a lifetime of pastoral ministry and as the son of a pastor.
- Spend time with your kids. When life is nearing the end, all of the accomplishments, degrees and accolades will seem like rubbish in comparison to the love of your closest family members. Never sacrifice these relationships for “stuff”; instead sacrifice “stuff” to enrich your relationships. Don’t worry about giving your kids more things; instead give them more of your time. A child will quickly destroy a toy and throw it in the trash but they will cherish the memory of their mom or dad baking cookies with them or playing catch. Trust me; these will be the things that you cherish also.
- Find what you love to do, than find someone to pay you to do that. It took me many years of working jobs that I hated to figure this out. Finally, I realized that I loved to preach. I love to study the Bible and explain it to others. Oh, and I’m pretty good at it. Now, I actually get paid to do what I would gladly and passionately do for free. As a result, I go to work happy and I offer the people my very best (almost) every day because to me, this is not work, it is my passion.
- Be generous. Sometimes I have to say something so basic that I question even the need to say it. However, I have found that usually the most basic idea has the most profound and practical impact on people’s lives. Here it is: you will enjoy life more by being generous than by being stingy. Even some of the world’s richest people have come to understand this principle. Bill Gates, for example, stepped down from running Microsoft in 2008 to dedicate himself to philanthropy. The Bible says it this way, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- Leave something of yourself behind. This is often called “legacy”. Inherent in the human psyche is the need to leave something that outlives us…something of value that impacts generations to come. This can be accomplished through the relationships that outlive us; our kids, spouses, those that we have mentored, etc., but it can also be things that we have worked on/for. For example, a book that contains your intellectual property or a building that you labored with your hands to construct. These types of tangibles that we leave behind, not only enrich our lives but they comfort us as we pass from this life.
- Know God. I left this one for last even though it is the most important because I understand that not all people believe this to be necessary for a life without regrets. Let me tell you though, every person whose bedside I have sat at, as they stare into the unknown of death, they cry out either for or against God. Some have defiantly cursed the God that they claimed to not believe in. These deaths are sadder than usual as they are defined by unbelief instead of belief. In starkest contrast, sitting at the bedside of people who have a deep faith in God gives a sense of meaning and purpose (even of death) that I have never witnessed at the bedside of the irreligious. The book of Ecclesiastes explains, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13).
So, what do you regret? Evaluate your life today and make the changes necessary in order to live a life that you will be proud of at your death.