An Unregrettable Life
“Living life on my terms is hard and regrettable. Living life of Godâ€™s terms is hard but unregrettable.” This was the premise of a sermon I listened too back in January. The statements caught my attention; I wrote them down on the back of an offering envelope and thought there might be something for us to think about in them. At least the statements got me to thinking. The statements have three things in common: life, terms, hard. The statements make two contrasts:Â me/God and regrettable/unregrettable.
Life – none of us asked to be brought into this world, all of us are responsible to do something with our â€ślifeâ€ť now that we are here, we have little control over many of the factors that will influence our life and we donâ€™t know how or when our life will be over.
Terms – the conditions of an agreement. Who sets the terms or your life or my life. How do we determine the terms that we will live by? What choices do we make and which influences do we chose to resist or submit to?
Hard – difficult, problematic, troublesome as opposed to easy, comfortable, agreeable. There may be varying degrees of â€śhardnessâ€ť to one life as compared to another – but life is hard in one way or another for everyone.
OK – Life is hard for everyone, but some people live their lives and when they come to the end they look back with regret. Other people live their lives and when they come to the end the have few or no regrets. So what is the factor that determines if we will come to the end of our life and have regrets or no regrets? Well, if the pastor I was listening too was correct, the determining factor has to do with whose terms I lived on:Â my own terms or Godâ€™s terms. â€śLiving life on my terms is hard and regrettable. Living life of Godâ€™s terms is hard but unregrettable.â€ť
My work often encounters people towards the end of their lives. My work is more a â€ślooking back endeavorâ€ť than a â€ślooking forward endeavor.â€ť As I encounter people many are old, others have life threatening conditions and others are at a time when some illness or accident has arrested their life momentarily, providing opportunity for reflection. It is during these times of reflection that people become aware of regrets related to how they chose to live their lives.
Now some of the things I regret, I bear no responsibility for; while other things I regret I must bear complete responsibility for; and still other things I regret there are a number of parties who must bear particle responsibility for. Because I have no control over others, as we consider regrets, lets confine our comments to those regrets that we must bear some responsibility for.
These regrets can fall into a number of categories. There are regrets that I have that are related to a lack of resources. I might regret that I donâ€™t have more put away for retirement. But in this case I have to consider the realities that prevented my saving more:Â My wife and I chose to be a one income family for the first 15 or so years of our marriage because we valued having my wife at home for the kids. Now if she would have worked, we might have a lot more money in the bank, but what sacrifices would have been made in terms of our boys. Not having more money in the bank may be a far easier regret than having has a child that got in with the wrong crowd because there was not sufficient supervision in the home. Thinking about it this way, I guess I donâ€™t really regret not having more money in the bank for retirement after all.
But then there are the regrets that no matter how we look at them, we just are living with the consequences of having made really bad decisions. Take for instance my grandfather,Â He had to quite school when he was 8 years old to begin working in a coal mine in the mountains of Pennsylvania. He started smoking because all the miners smoked on their breaks. He smoked for 81 years, had one of those smokerâ€™s coughs for the last 30 years of his life, suffered a number of other health issues related to his smoking and spent a lot of money over the years on cigarettes. He really could blame his smoking on anyone but himself, he never even tried. But sometimes towards the end of his life, after a particularly rough coughing spell, he may have thought, â€śI wish I had never started smoking.â€ť This regret, well, it was his and his alone to bear. Somewhere along the way he could have quit, probably tried a number of times, but in the end never succeeded.
But perhaps the most important disposition that everyone of us have to make a decision about is posture that we take in relation to whose terms we are going to live on. In our culture there is something about living on oneâ€™s own terms that is lauded. We like the â€śI did it my wayâ€ť disposition that Frank Sinatra sung about. But there are many who come to the end of their lives and look back and wonder about the wisdom of living on their own terms. They wonder for a couple of reasons:
First, because living on my own terms is a selfish disposition that leaves many hurts, especially for those closest to us, in it wake. The man who lives on his own terms probably doesnâ€™t have a wife that ever really felt loved or a son who ever really feels the support and blessing of his father. The woman who lives on her own terms may reach career goals but be lonely because of all the folks that she climbed over to get there. The teenager that lives on his or her own terms may party hardy, but fail to make any progress in the things that really will help later in life like developing a work ethic or learning the basics necessary to make it in an adult world.
But when we chose to live on Godâ€™s terms, there are sacrifices to made in terms of exercising our autonomy, in terms of rejecting choices that He does not approve, in terms of making sacrifices in order to engage Godâ€™s values and his vision. But the difficulties of living on Godâ€™s terms do not leave us full of regret at the end of lifeâ€™s road. This is one of the paradoxes of trusting God. The way to a life ended with few regrets is to lay down our right to live life on our own terms and to choose to live life on Godâ€™s terms.
Believe me, I know that living life of Godâ€™s terms is not easy. It is not easy to curb my own selfish ambition to â€śdo it my wayâ€ť. The road God calls us to follow is not an easy one. Often as I have pursued this choice I have stopped in the middle of some truly awful situation and asked, â€śI s this really worth it? But each time, the thing that has helped me answer that question with a resounding â€śYES!â€ť is the promise that at the end there would be few regrets.
Now, I have no idea how close to the end I am: at the 59 year mark of my life, I could have another 20-30 years to go till I get to the end of my road, or that end may be right around the corner. But, thus far, having chosen to pursue Godâ€™s terms in my life for most of those years, I have very few regrets about that choice. I suppose if I would have pursued another career I might be retired already, or I might have a pretty good nest egg saved for when I do retire. Or I might have made a name for myself somehow. But to be able to look back with few regrets and to be able to look forward to hearing God say, â€śWell doneâ€ť when I finally meet Him face to face, well, there is just nothing, at least in my book, that can match that.
So, I guess the reason these words â€śLiving life on my terms is hard and regrettable. Living life of Godâ€™s terms is hard but unregrettable.â€ť Make sense to me is that I would rather end my life with few regrets, than to have lived it on my terms and come to the end regretting much of what I look back upon. How about you? Have you taken a good look back lately, how many regrets are littering the sides of the road you traveled?