I just got word that a dear sweet lady who is a member of a former church of mine, is in the last steps of her earthly journey. It makes me sad to know she is leaving us, and yet happy that she will be going home to be with God. May God bless her and keep her on her journey into God’s loving arms.
The woman I’m speaking of has been a practicing Christ follower most of her life. With her imminent passing, it set me to thinking about regrets. This lady has lived more than 80 years here on earth, I wonder what kinds of regrets she might have as she makes her transition.
Regret is a funny word, its defined as:
verb: regret; 3rd person present: regrets; past tense: regretted;
past participle: regretted; gerund or present participle: regretting feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).
noun: regret; plural noun: regrets a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.
As we look back on our lives, what comes to mind? Do we find we have a number regrets? Of course, the longer we live, the more experiences we have, the more we have to mull over. Do regrets become a part of our mulling over, our looking back?
Each of us can look back and see missed opportunities. We can see where we might have done something wrong, and wished we hadn’t. We locate the times where we were wrong or wrong-headed, and would like a “do-over.” This is the nature of regret, it takes us back to places where we may feel we have failed.
Of course, there are no “do-overs.” We live with what we’ve done, it continues to impact our lives in many different ways.
Speaking for myself, I can look back on my life and see too many times I said an unkind word, too many times where I ignored someone’s need, too many times where I failed to act as Jesus would have acted. I find there are those times when I felt righteous indignation at some perceived wrong, and therefore felt justified in acting or speaking a certain way. Those times are times I regret, I know what I said or did was out of anger, not through prayer and supplication.
I would like to look back on my life and find my regrets might become fewer and fewer. I would like my regrets to be positive ones, like Nathan Hale’s famous regret: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” That would be a great way to leave this life, wishing I could give more.
You’ll remember the famous professor, Randy Pausch, who gave a stirring lecture to his students as he approached his death. Professor Pausch said, “I think the only advice I can give you on how to live your life well is, first off, remember… it’s not the things we do in life that we regret on our deathbed, it is the things we do not.” Most of the quotes about regrets I’ve come across have a similar tone, we regret not so much what we’ve done, as what we haven’t done.
One of my favorite quotes about regret comes from an American matriarch, Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush said, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”
That speaks to a lot of my regret. I look back and think how I should have spent more time with my parents, giving them as much of me as I could to repay them for all they gave me. Time well spent is with children, and friends, and family. The problem with regrets though, as I see it, is they trap us in the past. We visit and re-visit the past hoping to somehow assuage our guilt over missed opportunities, or past misdeeds. When we do that, we have missed the opportunity to live in the present and move toward the future. Time spent in regret is time wasted. Whatever we’ve done in our past that seems to tug at us, we have to make peace with it. We have to find a way to turn those situations and circumstances into learning opportunities.
My life has been one adventurous ride, I can tell you. My daddy wanted me to be a lawyer, he said I argued better than anyone he ever knew. But my daddy was a police officer in San Antonio and interacted with lots and lots of lawyers. Even though his remark about my skill at arguing was meant tongue-in-cheek, he saw lawyers as an educated bunch who were afforded more opportunities than he had had. I didn’t want to be a lawyer, I wanted to be police officer like my daddy. He told me it wasn’t for me. Did I listen? Of course not.
I joined the Houston Police Department when I was 19, and thought I had the world by the tail. The academy was hard and grueling, but I made it through and was sworn in. Three weeks into the job, I knew my daddy was right. That was not the job for me. But I didn’t regret it. I learned a lot about myself and about what I could accomplish.
Then I got a job with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company. This was where my mother, and brother, and sister-in-law worked. I knew a great number of people who worked there. My mother was so glad I got hired, she told me I wouldn’t regret it. Great place to work, great benefits, great career. All of those things were true, but I discovered that wasn’t my place either. But I don’t regret my time there, I learned a lot, and made lots and lots of mistakes.
I left knowing I would not regret the move to attend seminary and pursue ordination. I’ve pastored in small and large churches, and every one of them were unique and special in their own way. In each place, and with each group of people, I messed up time and time again. Each time I messed up, I found I was learning something.
My regrets, as I look back, are that I didn’t give more of myself away. I kept many people at a distance because of my sexual orientation. I didn’t share all of me, as fully as I should have. Fear of being rejected, fear of being ostracized, fear of being belittled or being shut out. These are the things that kept me from fully being present. When I came to Preston Hollow, I realized life was too short to not be fully who I am so that I can give as much of me away to as many as possible.
If I have any regret at this point in my life, its that I have less time to be who God created me to be. God created me to be loving, to be giving, to be sharing, to be forgiving, to be compassionate and merciful. These are the gifts of me I wish I had more time to give away.
The lady I spoke of in the beginning, is a woman who would share with you all of who she is. She wouldn’t start with all of her accomplishments, all of her accolades, she would start with all of her failures. In each one, she would enumerate what she learned, and how glad she was to have had that learning opportunity. She would share with you how much love she has felt from her church family. She would share with you how she has seen Jesus in so many people she has met and engaged with. She would share with you that her journey has been nothing short of miraculous and adventurous. I’m truly going to miss her.
My prayer today for each of us is, that our regrets are few and far between. That our regrets will not be that we saved one more dollar, that we spent one more hour at our workplace, that we didn’t acquire one more thing. I pray our lives are touched by God’s continuing grace and love, and that each of us on our journeys will find ways to be authentically who we are to honor whose we are.
Continuing the journey on The Way,