I Wish I Hadn't Worked So Hard

October 15, 2019

Bronnie Ware is a hospice worker and researcher who provided a profound service to her dying patients and to multiplied thousands who have learned and grown from the transparent and vulnerable thoughts those patients shared. Ms. Ware worked with them in the last twelve weeks of their lives, and found that there are five common regrets when patients realize their time on this planet is about to end. The regrets are not surprising, because these are things that touch all of our lives as we struggle to pay attention to the things that are truly important. Number five on the list was “I wish I had let myself be happier,” number four was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” and number three was “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

The second highest ranked regret shared by these brave souls runs counter to our cultural values: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Ware reported, "This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

That’s a sad way to come to the end of life, particularly if you are a God-follower. Billy Graham wrote, “Our work was never meant to become the center of our lives. That place belongs only to God. …Someone who brags about working 70 or 80 hours (or more) a week probably thinks he is the master of his job—but in reality he has become its slave.”

No matter what you do for a living, all of us have something in common: We all have 24 hours in a day. How you choose to spend your time, or your life, is up to you. Undoubtably, work and money are the primary topics in our culture, but when you give it an intentional look, you will see that there are dozens of ways you can simplify your life and spend less, and also work more effectively. 

Sometimes we try to “balance” our lives. Jon Gordon says, “I believe work-life balance is a myth. Rather the key is to find rhythm and be engaged when you are at work and engaged when you are home. Invest in relationships where you are and you’ll feel more energized at work and home. You won’t have balance, but you’ll be fulfilled.” I agree. Life is made up of seasons. In some seasons (and it could be a day, week, month), your family, marriage, children, will require an unusual amount of time investment. At other times it will be a season where work requires more. It is wise to invest wisely every ordinary day so that when that time comes that you must draw on the time account in one area to keep up in the other, you have some margin. For instance, as I am a pastor, the Christmas season is a very busy work season for me. I can’t do everything I would like with my family prior to the holidays. I don’t have much down time, because the work season just doesn’t allow it. But the days after the holiday, I belong to them. And during the holiday, when I AM at home with them, I am fully there, building the relationships, not the hustle and bustle of accomplishing. Focusing on relationships, always, wherever I am, gives my life and work the meaning God intended.

Two things I try to remember in this area:

Make sure my priority focus is on the places where I can’t be replaced. We all work hard to be valued and needed at our workplace. But face it—everyone of us is replaceable. If I were to die today, an interim leader would immediately step in, a search would begin for a successor, he/she would be found, and God’s work would go on. However, in my family it’s a different story. My wife will have lost ME, her husband of several decades—a role no one else can fulfill. My children will have lost their father and they will never have another. When push comes to shove and no compromise can be made, it must be in these areas. It’s also true in my relationship with God. It must be my primary focus EVERY day. No one else can have my relationship with God for me but me.

Take time to rest. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates”(Exodus 20:8-10).

Most of us live in a culture that ignores this commandment. But it’s still important. Just as God created work, He also created rest. He never meant for His people to be workaholics. He is our Maker and He knows the rhythms we need to be healthy in every arena of life. He knew what it takes for us to come to the end of our time on earth satisfied and happy. Jesus was fully man. He prioritized His relationship with God and His relationships with people while He was here on earth. He worked so hard, too—crowds of people followed Him everywhere, wanting to get more from Him, so much so that He had to deliberately get away from them to rest and pray. But He prioritized relationships and rest so well while fulfilling the mission that when He died, He was able to say, “I have finished the work You sent me to do” (John 17:4).

That’s my goal. No regrets here.