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February 17, 2013

VASICEK: What could we do differently in life?

Live in a way that begets few regrets

— As a pastor, I am often with people in their last days. Many people die with few or no significant regrets. Some wish they had taken their spiritual lives more seriously, others regret wrong choices or broken relationships.

I have made a number of course corrections over the years. One such change can be reduced to a single sentence, “I take myself a lot less seriously than I used to.” But what regrets do most people have?

According to an article from the UK Guardian, Australian nurse Bronnie Ware (who worked for years in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives) compiled a list of the top five regrets people shared during their final weeks. I will comment on them.

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

It seems inexplicable, but we need “permission” to be who we really are meant to be. The temptation to conform and follow the herd is strong.

While some people trash their relationships in a quest to be themselves (especially at mid-life), others play a role like an actor on Broadway. The balance, of course, is to let you be “you” (your personality) in the context of your commitments and responsibilities.

2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Nurse Ware claims every male patient she served uttered words like these. This is not universal: I know lots of men who prioritize time interacting with their families above their careers.

Yet some tell their wives, “You raise the kids, and I’ll provide for them.” Sad.

The younger generation is different; time will tell whether future generations will have the same regret.

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

 Some people have the wrong premise, namely, that good people do not get angry. Since they view themselves as good people, they conclude they are not really angry. If we expressed anger in controlled but direct ways, we could keep anger from getting out of control — or taking the more sinister passive-aggressive approach to anger.

Alternatively, we may not reassure the people we care about that we do love them. We may be afraid to express thankfulness or offer a compliment because we think withholding positive praise will keep people producing. Bad way to think. Do not hide barbs or conceal scolding while praising another, either. Let yourself get mushy.

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

Where do the years go? Sometimes a Christmas card is our only communication for an entire year. Once in a while I make the effort to call an old friend or two. Do I worry about whether they ever call me? No. I suggest you not worry about it, either.

Some of us are so insecure that we reason if friends do not call us, they do not care about us. You can probably discern when you talk to them: Do they seem to enjoy the conversation, or are they patronizing? Some people are not good at making relationships happen; they need others to take the initiative. It should not be this way, but life is too short and we are too busy to keep score. Call ’em.

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

I have a hard time understanding this one, because having good clean fun is my forte. Many people have never given themselves permission to enjoy life. Others go the other way and crave nothing but pleasure. Ironically, our involvement with others is one of the most potent sources of enjoyment. Sad how so many folks would rather take anti-depressant drugs and bear stress-induced diseases rather than give themselves permission to watch a silly movie, tell jokes, have friends over for a meal, or socialize and laugh.

I am not in a hurry to die. I have not always made the best choices. But I try to live so that, when my time comes, I will have few regrets. It just makes sense, does it not?

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@att.net.

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