What Can You Learn From America's Top 14 Regrets?

When we review a list like this, we should ask ourselves, "Am I going to change anything in light of those areas that hit close to home?"
When we review a list like this, we should ask ourselves, "Am I going to change anything in light of those areas that hit close to home?" (Kyle Albert/Flickr/CC)
In the past two weeks we welcomed a new grandbaby and were stunned by a young father's tragic death. Talk about an emotional roller coaster ride amidst three back-and-forth trips between Nashville and Atlanta.

A radiant 9-pound baby girl arrived 48 minutes after my son and his wife shuffled into the hospital's baby delivery wing. With Atlanta's traffic, my son was elated it happened in the middle of the night so he didn't have to deliver bambino in the car!

A few days later, the 30-year-old father of our son's 5- and 9-year-old step-children was instantly killed in an automobile accident. Just days ago at the sober, tearful memorial service, two pastors brought assurance that he had gone to heaven and was with Jesus.

I regularly find myself not only pondering what future lies ahead for this precious little bundle of babyhood but what, if any, regrets did this young man take to his grave. Thank God Scripture says, "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death. Neither shall there be any more sorrow nor crying nor pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:4).

How About You?

In the whirlwind of our busy deadlines and schedules, urgent emails, Facebook postings, phone calls and all the rest, when an unexpected death occurs, do you pause to reflect on what your biggest regrets would be if you were suddenly and unexpectedly taken out of the picture?

In the recesses of our minds, we all know we're continuing to neglect some important things we should do but never quite get around to. Maybe now is the time.

Having just commemorated 9/11, remember how many people said they received last minute phone calls from their loved ones right before they perished? And those phone calls didn't concern NFL scores or political polling but rather the expressions of love, appreciation and tearful goodbyes.

Someone once said, "If we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all we wanted to say, every phone would be busy with people calling other people to stammer that they loved them."

When I was a young teen I recall being corrected by my father when I suddenly decided it wasn't "cool" to kiss him good night anymore. "Son, you always kiss your father and mother good night because you never know if you'll see only one of us in the morning."

The tender tradition continued all the days of my life until Dad died suddenly after a church service at age 74. In this instance, like many others, I thank God I can say "No regrets!" even though I didn't have my chance to verbally say my goodbye.

The Biggest Regrets of Americans

Not long ago, Forbes magazine ran a fascinating article enumerating the "Top 25 Regrets" people had in life. The following list is not exhaustive but hits some of the highlights.

* Working too much at the expense of family and friends

* Losing touch with good friends over time

* Not spending more time with my children

* Not taking care of my health when I had the chance

* Neglecting my marriage and letting it drift or break down

* Not turning off the phone more and breaking my email or Facebook addiction

* Worrying about what others thought about me so much

* Choosing the practical job over the one I really wanted

* Not burying the hatchet with a family member or old friend

* Not trusting that voice in the back of my head more

* Getting involved with the wrong group of friends when I was younger

* Not having the courage to get up and speak at a memorial service or important event

* Not visiting dying friends before their death

* Not focusing on my legacy by being a better father or mother

Time for Action

When we review a list like this, we should ask ourselves, "Am I going to change anything in light of those areas that hit close to home?" Where there is gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit, will we rationalize or procrastinate what we know we should handle?

If we wait to do a great deal of good at some time off in the future, we'll probably never really do anything. Success in life is made up of faithfulness in little things.

Jim Rohn, affectionately called "Mentor to the Masters," made a statement that I have next to me on my desk: "Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines practiced every day."

How about the discipline of reflection in the presence of God and then responding without delay to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, no matter how big or small?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the brilliant poet and philosopher who attended Jesus College, Cambridge, encouraged others to be intentional in their reflection leading to action: "There is one art of which every man should be a master — the art of reflection."

"How Will You Measure Your Life?"

There's a book on the market with the subtitle above. A Harvard professor, Clayton Christiansen, tells of his interaction with very successful executives and CEOs who were rich but empty. They had superficial friendships; sad experiences in marriage and family; and, down deep were empty and depressed.

Clayton made a quality decision to focus on what's really important in life. In his book he says, "Intimate, loving and enduring relationships with our family and close friends will be among the sources of the deepest joy in our lives."

On the wall in my study I have a plaque that I have treasured for about 40 years: "I shall pass through this world but once, any good that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now, let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."  - Henry Drummond

Another wall in our home holds a parchment with these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson defining success: "To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

There are two Sauls spoken of in Scripture, one in the Old Testament and one in the New. One ends his life with a champion's declaration — the triumphant shout of a man with little or no regret. The other leaves us a beaten man's lament — the tragic cry of an individual overflowing with regret.

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, and I have kept the faith. From now on a crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing" (2 Tim.4:6-8).  

"I have acted foolishly and have seriously gone astray" (1 Sam. 26:21).

What Will Be Your Swan Song?

As I write this, I'm going to celebrate another birthday (my 30th — just kidding!). Coincidentally it's followed by a trip to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio where I'll be addressing a gathering of about a hundred leaders. With my recent experience and going back down "memory lane," I'm sure I'll be doing more reflection in this season of life.

In ancient mythology, it was believed that a swan, unable all its life to sing like other birds, would burst forth into glorious song when it sensed the approach of death. According to Plato, Socrates explained the song as one of gladness because the swan, sacred to Apollo, was shortly to be able to join the mythological "god" it served.

From this picturesque source we owe the allusion to the last work of any poet, writer, or orator as his "swan song," supposedly the culmination of all his artistry, his finest work.

Here's the deal: Seize today to engage in some healthy self-reflection, make needed adjustments and finish your race strong, devoid of regrets.

Be inspired by these words from Brother Andrew, who risked his life as he smuggled Bibles into communist lands. When I ministered in Amsterdam he told our team when asked if he had any regrets:  "Regrets?  I only wish I had been more radical for Jesus!"

How about you?

Larry Tomczak author of 10 books, is a cultural commentator of 50 yrs, Intercessors for America board member, best-selling author and a public policy adviser with Liberty Counsel. His new, innovative video/book, BULLSEYE, develops informed influencers in 30 days (see www.bullseyechallenge.com). and he has a variety of resources on his website (see www.larrytomczak.com). You can also hear his weekly podcast here.

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