Earlier this year, The Guardian reported about Bonnie Ware, a palliative nurse, who had spent 12 years documenting the last words and dying regrets of those under her care (which eventually resulted in a book). Ware said that people at the end of their lives have “phenomenal clarity of vision,” and therefore we should consider what we might learn from their wisdom.
Ware listed the top 5 regrets (most commonly mentioned) of those on their deathbed. At the end of each regret listed by Bonnie Ware, I share a prayerful reflection about this upcoming New Year.
Regret 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 realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
Reflection: Father, allow me to experience the freedom that comes from your unconditional acceptance of me through the finished work of your Son. Give me grace to live out courageously the true life I have in him, not a life dictated by the approval of others. Help me to see the most useful allocation of this life comes when I have nothing to gain or lose from others because all that I have or ever will need rests securely and satisfyingly in You.
Regret 2: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
Reflection: Father, deliver me from the idolatry of performance from the need to treat what I do as a functional savior and god-replacement as self-salvation projects of which I am tempted to create. Help me to give my loved ones undistracted devotion with a passion for being present–mind, heart, and will. Give me an eternal perspective to prioritize what matters most, and pattern my life accordingly. Let my enjoyment of those I love be the horizontal outworking of my enjoyment of You.
Regret 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.”
Reflection: Father, you have loved me with an everlasting,undying love – a love demonstrated and displayed with magnificence and might. I ask for the strength of Your love to be shed in my heart through the Holy Spirit so that my affections may run deep and wide without the handicap of indifference or ambivalence. Oh that I may have a pathos that burns with holy fire and melts all bitterness and breaks down every barrier to loving well. Make me a peacemaker, pursuing forgiveness as You have forgiven me.
Regret 4: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
“Often they would not truly realise 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. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
Reflection: Triune God, You have forever dwelt in community, and yet because of sin, so many times I am content to live with superficial if not severed relationships. You have redeemed me that I would commune with You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that my communion would overflow in the communion of the saints. Deepen my investment in gospel partnerships with perseverance in prayer and supplication for others you have placed in my life. Let the bonds you have formed be strengthened through encouragement, prayer, and the effectual sharing of everything good thing we experience together in Christ so that the community we enjoy here will be a foretaste of what we will experience in heaven.
Regret 5: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise 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 their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
Reflection: In your presence, Father, there is fullness of joy. You are the fountain of delights. No one is more dedicated to my happiness than you. And my heart is so prone to broken cisterns to find the satisfaction. Throughout my days, I long to turn from fleeting pleasures of this world to embrace the infinite treasure in Your Son. May the joy of my salvation be the aroma of Christ so that others would find their true happiness in You. Never let my shout be louder or song be sweeter than Jesus, the lover of my soul.