January 1 2017 Sermon: "No Regrets?"
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2) a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3) a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4) a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5) a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6) a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7) a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8) a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NRSV)
The Journal of Clinical Psychology recently published an article on New Year’s resolutions. Here’s a list of the top ten. #1 lose weight, #2 get organized, #3 spend less, save more, #4 enjoy life to the fullest, #5 stay fit and healthy, #6 learn something exciting, #7 quit smoking, #8 help others, #9 fall in love, and #10 spend more time with family.1
Sounds like a good list to me. Throughout the years I’ve aspired to most of the list at one time or another, my success rate is another story. The same article gave all the predictable statistics about how long most people last before breaking their resolutions. I will not discourage you with these numbers. There is one stat that surprised me. “The percent of people in their twenties who achieve their resolution each year, 39%. The percent of people over 50 who achieve their resolution each year, 14%.”2 I would have
guessed the opposite. My assumption was that people over 50 are better at keeping their resolutions than younger people. The numbers say otherwise. Why is that? Maybe it is because it is harder to lose weight in your 50’s than in your 20’s. Also, usually the older we get the less we care about our looks, which is a good thing in a country that bombards us with commercials telling us that looks are everything. Having some perspective on life helps us sort through those things that are truly important versus those things that are of lesser importance.
“No regrets” is a popular saying these days. I like the idea, but it’s not realistic. A much more realistic saying is this, “Hindsight is 20/20.” When we look back on our lives with the benefit of hindsight, we all see things that we did not see at the time, outcomes we could not have predicted, unexpected life events we never saw coming. So maybe we should ask ourselves, if we had it to do over again, what would we do differently? Not so as to regret what we did or did not do, but to use as inspiration for how we choose to live our lives from this point on.
In 2012 Australian hospice nurse, Bronnie Ware, published a book entitled, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. The book was a huge success and went on to be published into 27 languages. Ware writes, For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though,
every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
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. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back...on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled...It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way...[Being healthy]...brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
[People] missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship... Many deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill...work...By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved...It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away...It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to... [themselves], that they were content...When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. [Ware concludes]...Life is a choice...Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.3
As we begin this New Year, let us be more intentional about our choices each and every day. When faced with a choice, let us choose to love—to love God, to love others, and to love ourselves. There are no better resolutions than these! AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only New Year’s Day 2017 The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
O God, distant yet near, be among us this day. Hear the yearnings of our hearts. Help us broaden the narrowness of our vision. Make us new again on this New Year’s Day with your love and grace. Give us the ability to accept your many gifts in humility and to use them with faithfulness. Grant that our worship may witness to your holy presence in our lives.
And now all praise be to you Eternal God forever and ever. AMEN.
Prayer adapted from http://www.ucc.org/worship/worship-ways/year- a/ace/new-years-day-behold-a.html.
1http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/ 2Ibid. 3http://bronnieware.com/regrets-of-the-dying/