Regret is a painful thing. We look back on the foolish things we have done and the good things we have left undone. We lament wasted years, wrong attitudes, hurts inflicted on others, missed opportunities.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, spent years caring for patients in their last days. She identified the most common regrets they expressed about their lives in an article, and later a book, titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” They are:
1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
“This was the most common regret of all,” Ware writes. “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.”
2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
“This came from every male patient that I nursed,” Ware reports. “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.”
3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
Many people regretted staying silent or living dishonest lives just to “keep the peace” with others. They often developed illnesses from bitterness and resentment.
4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
Ware: “Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. … It all comes down to love and relationships in the end” — not money, things or accomplishments.
5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
Many people failed to realize until it was nearly too late that happiness is a choice, Ware discovered. They willingly remained in the bondage of patterns and habits that were familiar, yet brought little contentment.
- I’ll add a few more regrets that I have experienced. Perhaps you have some, too:
- I wish I had spent more time glorifying God and less time cursing the darkness.
The world stinks. People are evil. Terrible things happen all the time. This is not exactly news. Constantly bemoaning it is a waste of time. Praising the Lord, His greatness, His grace and mercy and His salvation is time better spent — both now and in preparation for eternity in His presence. It’s also a better way to eliminate darkness. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).
- I wish I had spent more time serving God and people and less time serving myself.
God created you and me to love Him, not to squander our brief time on earth loving ourselves only. The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647 is a far better guide in this regard than all the pop psychologists and phony priests of self-worship: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
- I wish I had told a lot more people about Jesus — and helped other Believers to do so.
If Jesus meant the words He uttered in Matthew 28:19-20, when He told His followers to make disciples among all nations (peoples), this is our agenda. Nothing else comes higher on the priority list. And we have more resources to do it on a truly global scale than any previous generation of Believers.
What are your regrets? If you’re still alive and alert enough to read this, you can change the habits and patterns that caused them.
“People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality,” Ware says of her experiences with the dying. “I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal.”
We are all dying. Some of us have a few days left; some of us have many years. Make every day count.