I hate the commonly used motivational phrase, “it’s never too late…” because it fools people into believing that they have forever to: start over, be happy, quit an addiction, forgive, mend and restore relationships…(you fill in the blank). Truth is, there IS a too late – and I believe we’ve all been shaken by this reality at some point in our lives. So, rather than tell you something you already know, I thought this article would be best suited as a reminder.
A few days ago, my cousin sent me a picture text message of a thank-you letter I had written to my Uncle almost 10 years ago (in college). I don’t even remember what the “gift” was for, but evidentally a simple thank-you, was not enough. When I re-read the letter (that I don’t even remember writing), I couldn’t help but get emotional with the words I’d candidly written to my Uncle, but didn’t actually live-out. Here is the letter:
Prior to this communication, my family had been torn apart by broken promises, grudges and unforgiveness. I personally wasn’t involved in the drama, but I was influenced by it. So much so, that up to that point I hadn’t talked to my Uncle in nearly a decade.
I always wanted to make things ‘right’ – I think this was my attempt; but it wasn’t enough.
Another decade has passed. 20 years. Dang it. Now, it’s too late.
How many times have we told someone we miss them, or we love them, or we care about them, or that we will be there for them but we never really show it? Ugh. Guilty.
Meaningful words said carelessly are about as empty as not saying them at all.
I believe I meant what I said, but it’s likely he didn’t believe what I said.
My Uncle Ken was diagnosed with cancer last summer. It had metastacized all over his body and he was given 6 months to live. It was incurable. So, in early October, just weeks before I had moved to North Carolina, my cousin Kyle brought all the family and friends together to celebrate his life, while he was still alive. At that point, all the drama from the past and unresolved conflict disappeared for a day. It was as if, for a moment, people actually cared. Yet, for those of us who had waited, it was too late.
Much to my naïve faith, I didn’t think October 4th would be the last time I would see him. He passed away two months later on December 8th, 2014, at the age of 66.
In this relationship, or lackthereof, I failed. It may be an extreme example, but proves a point.
Admittedly, I have thought about him more in the past 10 months than I ever did in the last 20 years.
Regret is an odd emotion because it comes up only upon reflection. It lacks urgency because its power lives in the past. However, it also creates urgency in the present when its sting hurts the most.
Although painful, when acknowledged, regret is also a good teacher.
Regret that leads to repentance:
When I experience regret, it’s usually because I feel guilty about something. In the case of my Uncle, it was lost time, empty words and promises and allowing circumstances to stand in the way of a relationship with him.
To repent is to admit when you are wrong and accept personal responsibility for the wrong-doing while confessing the sin with an attitude of remorse. A conscious decision to make a change (stop the wrong-doing, turn away from the sin, etc) is then required in order to make a humble request to God for forgiveness.
(Reference Luke 15:11-24 on Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son).
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9
Regret that leads to action:
Another major component to my regret is because of the things I didn’t do. Again, in the case of my Uncle, I never picked up the phone and asked him to go to lunch. Ever. I never dropped in on him to see if he was okay. I simply never made an effort to show him I cared.
When it comes to relationships of any kind, I am now consciously aware of how important it is to act. Dieter F. Uchtdork says it best:
“True love requires action. We can speak of love all day long, we can write notes or poems that proclaim it, sing songs that praise it, and preach sermons that encourage it but until we manifest that love in action, our words are nothing but sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
If there is one prayer I ask God for every day, it’s that He would use me in some way that will help someone else. Even just one person. I believe that in order to live without regrets, our daily goal should be that we are conformed to the image and character of Christ (Romans 8:28-30). Each day is a character test that I know will never be perfect (until Heaven) but a test I pray I never fail at. For example:
When you tell someone you love them, do you show them too? (Romans 5:8, John 3:16)
When you tell people you are praying for them, do you really pray for them (or even better, pray with them)? (Matthew 26:36-56)
When you serve someone else, is it done so joyously, with no selfish ambition? (Philippians 2:3-4)
The true test in life isn’t necessarily living without regrets, but rather living with Godly purpose all the days of our lives. I’d venture to guess that if we live a life of purpose, we will never have regrets.