What would you do differently if you knew today was your last day on Earth?
This is a question that pops into my head from time to time and never fails to unsettle me. What would I do – or not do? How could I ever decide what was most important?
I’m far too prone to forget the brevity of life. In the busyness of my schedule, I often lose sight of the truth – which is that I don’t know how long I have left here. I may have years. I may have seconds.
What I don’t want to have is regrets.
Every day many people’s earthly lives end. And every day many people find out that their time here won’t be as long as they thought it’d be. Illnesses, diseases, disabilities…suddenly there’s a countdown. An earthly finale in sight. And though I have yet to experience that myself, I’ve often heard that that’s when the regrets set in.
It’s when we realize our lives are short that we wish we’d done more with them. It’s when we know we have precious little time left with our family and friends that we wish we’d appreciated them more. And it’s when it seems too late to fix our mistakes that we wish we’d lived a more intentional life.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s possible to finish our earthly lives with absolutely no regrets. As imperfect humans living in an imperfect world, there will always be mistakes. Always thoughts that shouldn’t be dwelled upon, words that shouldn’t be spoken, and actions that shouldn’t have been taken.
But there’s a world of difference between willingly letting those imperfections control our lives, and actively setting out to live the life we’re called to live. A life of love, generosity, integrity, and a passionate desire to follow God’s leading.
Living that kind of life is the closest we can get to a life of no regrets. And it’s hard.
But it’s so worth it.
Having watched as people around me have suffered through medical diagnoses and predictions of shorter lives, I’ve often thought about how I’d change my behavior if I wasn’t expected to be on earth much longer. How different would my daily schedule look? What would I cut out, add in, and focus on? Who would I spend the most time with? How would I treat them if I knew I might not get another chance to be with them again?
Looking at life from a very temporary perspective – rather than a “I’ll have plenty of time for what I want” view – changes just about everything.
Material things are of far less value, because after all, we can’t take them with us. Petty ‘setbacks’, ‘delays’, and ‘problems’ no longer shake us as much, because we’re focusing on the big picture aspects of life. We avoid disagreements, tension, and arguments because we know we only have a set amount of time with someone, and we want to make it count.
The world would be a lot different if everyone was living as if today was their last day. And it might be. We don’t know – but if it is, are we happy with our choices so far?
Honestly, I’m not.
If I look back over the things I’ve prioritized, the way I’ve treated the people in my life, and the things I’ve both done and chosen not to do…I have regrets. The legacy I’d leave behind now isn’t the one I want to be remembered for. Too often I try to call it ‘good enough’, but I don’t want to live that kind of life. I want to live one that constantly brings glory to God.
For me, this is especially hard when concerning relationships. It’s one thing to make the right choices and do the right things when you’re by yourself (though accountability is always good), but other people add in more variables. And we’re called to love others above ourselves, serving them and treating them like Christ would. Understandably, it can be a struggle.
I’m a naturally cautious, more timid person. While I love people, I just don’t know how to talk to them, haha. I’m shy. And I find it very hard sometimes to listen to the nudges God presses on my heart. Moments where I spot someone who looks lonely and I feel I should go talk to them. When someone’s made fun of and I know I should speak up. Or when someone appears fine, but if I obey the nudge to reach out to them, I find that they’re masking deep hurts.
What if I say the wrong thing? What if they think I’m strange, or awkward, or nosy? What if I try to be helpful but only make a fool of myself?
Over the years, I’ve strived to listen when God speaks to my heart – and obey. And though it’s still incredibly difficult for me, I’ve never once regretted listening to those nudges. We can’t know exactly how we impact people, but we can trust that God will bless our obedience and our efforts to spread love and kindness. I’ve seen enough of the effects before that I can be sure God’s using my efforts now, even when I don’t see the impact.
What I do regret is all the times I haven’t listened. All the times I’ve been too uncomfortable, too shy, or too insecure to do what I felt like I should. All the times I’ve turned my head or walked away instead of reaching out to someone. What if God had wanted me to be the person to make a difference in their life – and I ignored Him?
If we feel any kind of nudge to reach out to someone – no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it may feel – we should do it anyway. Maybe it’ll seem like nothing good comes out of it, but only God knows for sure. And maybe we will be able to see the impact we’ve made. The smile, the eyes that light up, or the suddenly-relaxed body language. Maybe it’ll start a longer relationship, maybe it’ll be a simple passing encouragement.
But we won’t regret it.
We might regret saying something silly, or realizing we had food stuck in our teeth, or all the many embarrassing details we may kick ourselves for later. But the act of reaching out? Of striving to be a blessing and making a positive difference in their day? In my opinion, we won’t regret that. I haven’t.
I still have so far to go when it comes to living without regrets. And I won’t ever be perfect, but what helps me to remember is that we never know when a chance will be our last. If today is my last day to smile at someone, to remind them how much they’re loved, to tell them about the God who longs to have a relationship with them…then I want to make it count. I want to reach Heaven and find out that my small, awkward acts of obedience opened the door for God to work in their lives.
None of the things I tend to get ensnared in will matter then. Not the possessions, not the career accomplishments, not the money, not the way I looked…only whether or not I obeyed when God asked me to be His voice, His hands, and His feet to someone. We’re the vessels through which God reveals His heart to others – and that’s the most important thing we can ever do.
When we live that way, we won’t regret it.
Even when it’s hard.
It’s worth it.
Be very careful, then, how you live—
not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish,
but understand what the Lord’s will is.
(Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV)