The Number One Regret of the Dying

October 22, 2019

The last few weeks we have been pondering our own lives in the light of studies done by a palliative care worker named Bronnie Ware. Ms. Ware interviewed terminally ill patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives and, among other questions, asked them if they had regrets. Five regrets surfaced over and over as the most common. 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.”

The number one regret was I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Ware reported, “This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

Whew. That is cause for thought, isn’t it?

Here is what I have come to know and believe. God has a plan for each of us. Psalm 139 tells us that we are wonderfully and fearfully made. God has created us with the ability to have a wonderful purpose-filled life, and has ordained days for us to walk in. This means He has designed paths for us that will bring us much joy and Him glory. When we walk with Him, our lives are intentional and empowered with purpose.

Yet culture has a powerful pull away from what God has designed for your ultimate fulfillment. People, even people you love and people who love you, will pull you away from the dreams and goals that are ultimately most significant for you to live a regret-free life. That adds understanding to the statement of Jesus: “Unless you hate your mother, father, sister, brother, you cannot follow me.” Jesus didn’t mean for us to break relationship with our loved ones, but to be willing to disappoint them if need be in order to follow Him. You will always have deep and lasting regrets if you try to please other people, even your family, more than you desire to please Christ.

Whose approval are you seeking? Whom are you trying to please? From whom are you trying to get acceptance? Are those desires overwhelming your ability to live a life true to yourself? Are you conforming your life to the desires of others?

You and I must be very intentional with the moments of our lives. They turn into days and weeks and years, and they get away from us. It has been said that if you don’t plan your life, someone else will. That is true. Time will pass and you will find yourself at the end of your life, and you have done THEIR plan, not yours.

How can you escape this conclusion? How can you come to the end of the days God gives you having lived your own best life, true to who He made you to be? The Roman writer tells us . . .

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

God’s will is good—best. It is pleasing—satisfying. It is perfect—excellent. God not only knows what is best for you, but He will give you the courage to do it. The condition is singular but absolute surrender. He wants you to live a regret-free life even more than you want it. The incredible thing is, He knows how you can do that, and He can supply the wisdom and power for it. The wise thing is to let Him lead all the days of your life.