No Regrets

My mother died at the beginning of this year at the age of 81. She was a happy wife of a very loyal husband. She was a serving mother of four children who shared with her our deepest hurts and our greatest dreams. She joyfully hosted guests in our home, taught the ladies Bible class, and stood at the very heart of our family.

My mother lived a life with no regrets. And so, I read with great interest, an article that was published the day following my mother’s death. It was written by Susie Steiner and appeared in the Guardian Weekly, a British newspaper. It is the story of an Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, who spent several years caring for patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying thoughts in her blog and eventually published a book entitled The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying.

Ware noticed the remarkable clarity that people seem to gain at the end of their lives, and she identified several lessons that we can learn from their insight.

She writes, “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.” Here are the top five regrets of the dying that Ware observed:

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, realizing how many dreams had gone unfulfilled. In essence they were all saying that health offers the opportunity to pursue our dreams, until that health is gone. Most wished they had acted when they were younger and healthier.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient that Ware cared for. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship as they spent their lives on “the treadmill of a work existence. ”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. In order to keep peace with others many had suppressed their feelings. Some had even developed illnesses due to the bitterness and resentment they carried deep inside. Looking back, they wished they had been more open.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Many would think about old friends in their final weeks and would even try to track them down. There were many regrets about not giving these relationships more time and effort over the years.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Surprisingly many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. Old habits, the comfort of familiarity, and the fear of change kept them stuck in unhappy routines, while deep inside, they longed for a deeper joy. They discovered that it had always been available, but they had not chosen it.

When I read this list of regrets it brought two thoughts to mind.

First, these stories of regret remind me that my journey of faith, modeled by my mother, can be filled with great joy and end with no regret.

Second, I am grateful that God helped my mother to discover her dreams and live a happy life. She was surrounded by great friends and by a loving family. Both she and my dad worked hard, but they also played hard. She lived a long and full life that took her to several very different parts of our great country, ranging from the sand storms of west Texas, to the swamps of southern Louisiana, to the lake-effect snows of upper Michigan, just to name a few. In each place she built a warm home, made good friends, and experienced joy and fulfillment.

I miss her greatly, but I know that her journey here prepared her to live in a place where regret does not exist.

It’s one thing to look back and regret the direction your life is going. It’s easy to make a list of regrets. But it’s another thing to look at the present and the future with hope. God offers hope. Can you name your greatest regret so far? If you can, then you can begin now taking steps to change it.

Artificial Time

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about my thinking on this topic. I’m not sure where I will land. I’m not even sure what to call these wandering thoughts. But I have given a lot of thinking to the subject, so consider this a draft.

It’s not really about artificial light or manufactured energy or propped up activity, although these are certainly on the same team. I guess I might call it “Artificial Time.” This thought comes to me whenever I leave my own culture of extended hours. When I visit my friends in West Africa I quickly notice that our day is more likely to slow down and come to an end when the sun goes down. The time of activity is not artificially extended. We shift into a lower, slower gear. Physical activity gives way to quiet conversations, and eventually to silence and sleep. Yes, there is electricity in the remote area where I visit. And, of course, there is a lot of artificial light in the large city two hours away. But even there, in the capital of that country, I notice that the city lights are dim, as our jumbo jet lands in the evening hours. Not so, in Dallas. When my West African friend, Isaac visited me two years ago, his plane landed at night. His first question had to do with the bright lights he saw from his window as he descended. We discovered that he was referring to the many car dealerships that brightly light up the night sky, not to mention the businesses that proudly advertise “we never close.”

If time were not artificially manipulated, when would we begin our sleep, and how long would it last? When would noise subside and silence carve out an end of the day time of reflection and evaluation? As it is, there is no time to think or reflect. Not only is the time awake artificially extended (which means that the time  of sleep is artificially shortened), but it’s not given to thought or creativity. We are not actually thinking our own thoughts. No, we have asked the networks to decide what we should think about, and they, in turn, have been told by the advertisers what messages, themes, values and questions we should ponder.

Last week the power went out at my house. I walked outside and confirmed that the whole neighborhood was dark. There was nothing else to do, so we began to prepare for bed. Then, just few minutes before turning in, the power suddenly came back on. I honestly wish that we had correctly guessed and successfully turned off all the lights in our house, because when they came back on, I gave in to artificial time.  I got back up. And I stayed up longer than natural time would have allowed.

I don’t know if artificial time has helped us. Not if we sleep less, reflect and meditate less, and operate on less real energy. Not if we walk and talk less. Not if we sit the same room with those we love having no heartfelt conversations. Maybe its time to have less artificial time.

What Are You Against? …… What Are You For?

images-1Some time ago I was privileged to hear Art Linkletter speak.  Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, he is currently 97 years old. I remember as a child that I had enjoyed his fun, positive personality, and especially the stories he would tell on his television program, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  But I had never heard him in person.

In his presentation he told us the story of his daughter’s drug-related death, and his subsequent personal involvement in the anti-drug movement of the late 1960’s.  As I listened to him I was impressed with his speaking ability, even as a man in his 90’s. It was easy to see how, in the 1960’s, he quickly became an “in demand” speaker, traveling the country telling his story.

What Are you Against?

As he told us his story, he explained how he was completely convinced of his cause and how he passionately pursued his purpose.  And so, he was surprised to notice that his energy was beginning to wane.  His enthusiasm was dissipating.  He had trouble sleeping.  His drive was fading.

All medical tests showed that he was fine, but still he felt terrible.  And then one day, as he walked to the podium to once again make his anti-drug speech, it all became clear to him.  His life had lost its energy because it was all devoted to something he was against.  He had not even addressed his most important question – what was he living for?  He explained to us, how at that very moment, he changed what we was going to say, and never gave the other speech again.

What Are you For?

We really have no choice. We all give our lives for something.  But for what will it be?  What beliefs do you live with?  What vision do you live for?  What cause is worth your very best?

As Paul reveals his own heart, we see the balance in his vision …

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.”

Colossians 2:1-2

As God’s representatives in our cities, towns, and schools, we are against the things that hurt people and relationships. Things like sin, selfishness, immorality, greed, arrogance, injustice, and cruelty, just to name a few.  But we must also be for the things that help people and relationships. Things like forgiveness, joy, reconciliation, love, obedience, worship, generosity, commitment, and service, just to begin the list.

And so, let’s admit it. We find it easy to think of what we are against.  But look at the second list.  What would you add?  What are you for? What is worthy of your most passionate devotion? The second list is where we offer an alternative.  The second list is where we begin to change our world.

Paradise Is Not a Place

Imagine that you are having your routine physical. The doctor checks your blood pressure, your heart rate, and your cholesterol.  In fact, she runs a whole range of blood tests.  She listens to your breathing, asks about your medical history, and checks for any allergies.   And then, she checks … your attitude, your outlook on life.  She wants to know how optimistic you are.  Are you hostile?  Do you carry anger or worry around with you?  And before you conclude that these last questions are too personal, let me correct myself.  I said, “imagine” a routine physical.  You don’t really have to imagine.  Paul Costa Jr., former head of The National Institute on Aging said, “personality has to be assessed as a standard part of health work-ups.”  Not only good food, but also good thoughts are important for physical, mental, and spiritual health.

And so, what kind of food do we serve our minds?  Criticism, complaining, bitterness, blame?  With this kind of nourishment, what will grow inside?  Probably not hope or joy or patience or optimism.  Carefully and thoughtfully read Philippians 4:8-9.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Isn’t it true that Paul is not just telling us to do the right thing; he is telling us to do what is right for us?

Ilene Siegler, of Duke University Medical School says that that “hostility is the most health damaging type-A quality.”  Carol Franz, of Boston University did a ten-year study of optimistic people and found that, “regardless of how much stress they had to cope with, people high in this kind of motivation had better health.”  Or, there is the twenty year Duke University study of more than four hundred men and women that found that the most suspicious and hostile people in the group stood the smallest chance of even surviving that twenty year span.

I always find it interesting when the “experts” of humanity reach a conclusion that God has been saying all along.  “Think on these things.”  “Put it into practice.”  “And the peace of God will be with you.”

Contemplation“think” Mull it over, repeat it to yourself, write it down, talk about it, sing about it.  It was Alexander Pope who wrote; “Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon.”
Selection“on these things” Not on “those things” but on “these things.”  Fix your attention on what is good and change the channel on what is bad. Yes, there is evil in the world, and no, you can’t turn away and pretend it’s not there.  But, when you choose your focus, your center of attention; when you select the kind of thinking that you will serve to your mind, choose carefully.
Action“put it into practice” Because it’s not meant for my head, but for my heart.  Complete life change is the goal.  And if my diet is consistent and constant, then the outcome will be unavoidable.  My heart will change and my life (practice) will show the transformation.

I remember when my friend Rick, on a whim, applied for a teaching job on one of the Hawaiian Islands, and got it.  He was excited and amazed.  But after living there for a while and experiencing real life, even in “vacationland,” he wrote me and said, “I’ve learned that ‘Paradise’ is not a place, it’s a state of mind.”  Thankfully, Rick knew the Father and he knew what to serve his mind.