“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus,
covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table;
even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” –Luke 16:19-21
A nurse specializing in care of the terminally ill has recorded the most common regrets of the dying. Interestingly, there’s no mention of missed project deadlines, skipped parachuting opportunities or even about one choice of life partner (the many jokes we have heard notwithstanding). You know the one about the woman who placed an ad on Craig’s list, “Husband wanted.” The next day, she received hundreds of emails saying the same thing: “You can have mine.”
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. People admit to fearing change in their lives, so they pretend that they are content. In fact, they wish they had laughed more and allowed themselves to be sillier.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. People feel badly that they were so caught up in their own lives that important friendships slip away.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This regret was expressed by every male patient….every male patient.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This is the most common regret of all. “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams,” says Ware, “and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
You might imagine that the rude, rich man in Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:19—31) has a few regrets when he finds himself in Hades suffering in death. As he observes the reversal of circumstance offered the poor man Lazarus who is carried away by angels to sit with Abraham you can hear the nameless rich man (who commentators have called Dives which is Latin for ‘rich’) say to himself, I wished that I had cared for the people around me. There was Lazarus lying at his gate, covered with sores and the rich man stepped over or around him. Every single day, the rich man missed a chance to help Lazarus by simply giving him the leftovers from his table.
The text suggests that his second regret might have been I wish that I had listened to Moses and the prophets. The rich man realizes in death that he had not paid attention to the word of God as it came through Moses, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). He had not heeded the prophet Isaiah, who commanded, “share your bread with the hungry … bring the homeless poor into your house” (Isaiah 58:7).
And like in our contemporary experience, his biggest regret might have been the same: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Every day, the rich man ignored poor Lazarus, fully aware of the teachings of Moses and the prophets. But he didn’t have the courage to live a life of integrity, one in which his actions were in line with what he observed and what he believed.
And like in our contemporary experience, the rich man probably fell into a trap set by his own consumption and the culture of those who have (read the 1%) who blame those who have not (the 99%) for their poverty—possibly even suggesting that Lazarus must be lazy or morally deficient. And maybe, sitting around the table overflowing with too much food and drink, some of which would go to waste, with his like-minded and equally situated colleagues and friends, empowered by a “prosperity theology” they would say, “God rewards goodness and punishes wickedness–it’s always been that way! So dress lavishly and eat sumptuously. You deserve it!”
These are some pretty BIG regrets. I wish that I had cared for the people around me. I wish that I had listened to Moses, the prophets and Jesus. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, in which my actions were in line with my beliefs.
Friends, we all have regrets, and we will have regrets when it is our time to meet our Maker (so to speak) for none of us is perfect. But with the guidance of our faith, we can live a life that keeps our egos right sized and in turn keeps our regrets right sized. If the rich man had just shared some of his food he would have experienced the transformative power of caring for another. If the rich man had woven the lessons of scripture and faith into his decision making, he might have given more and taken less. If he sought courage through prayer and meditation and his relationship with God—me might have resisted the status quo and the culture of consumption and found himself living in line with his values and beliefs.
The choices we make as individuals can make a big difference. Hunger in America might not be eliminated without government intervention, but the hungry person or persons on our street corner can be fed, a sandwich at a time. Our educational excellence needs the investment of the whole society, but the kid across the street whose single parent is working and who spends too much time alone can benefit from some of your time invested in a volunteer role.
You can live a life of integrity, true yourself and true to your beliefs and all it takes is to make one right choice at a time. And Jesus will tell you, the result is a life you won’t regret.
Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade (email@example.com)