Say Goodbye to Regret,

Say Goodbye to Regret

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Tuesday, October 3, 1995, is a day I will never forget. While much of America sat glued to their television sets awaiting the verdict in the infamous O.J. Simpson criminal trial, I sat by my telephone awaiting the news of my own future. A day earlier, a dermatologist told me he had noticed a suspicious spot on my face and needed to biopsy a section and send it off to the lab for further study. The next 24 hours were a time of great anxiety for me and my family. The word “cancer” is especially frightening to us, having lost both of my parents prematurely to that dreaded disease. I braced myself for the worst. During a sleepless night, I thought about all of the “if only’s” in my life. Two of the scariest words in the English language begin with “C”—change and cancer.

Some of my regrets were relatively frivolous. However, most of my regrets ran much deeper. I thought about all of the Saturdays I had spent at the office polishing an already adequately prepared sermon rather than playing with my two small girls at home.

I reflected on some hurtful things I had said to my wife, Amy. I remembered the wasted time I spent in front of the television watching programs I no longer recall instead of strengthening my relationship with God. A thousand other “if only’s” flooded my mind that night.

Shortly after noon the following day, O.J. listened intently as the foreman of the jury announced a verdict of “not guilty.” I remember the expression of relief on his face as he heard that he had been spared from a date with his executioner. No cameras were present in my study that same afternoon to record my expression when my doctor called to deliver my biopsy results. But take my word for it: O.J.’s response was mild compared to my reaction when I heard that my own death sentence had been commuted. The suspicious spot was only a piece of discolored skin!

My elation over the test results was tempered by the realization that my acquittal was only temporary. One day I would face the possibility of death again, probably sooner than I realized.  The end of my life might come suddenly through an accident or heart attack. But statistically, the chances are that one day a doctor will tell me that the spot in question is more than discolored skin, and I will have a period of months, weeks, or even years to anticipate my death. 

When that inevitable day comes, how will I handle the news? How will YOU handle the news? If the doctor were to tell you that you have only six months to live, what would be your attitude toward any regrets about your …

  • Marriage: Would you leave behind a spouse whose memories of you were filled with love and affection?
  • Vocation: Could you say that you spent your life in a career that you found truly fulfilling and that you made a significant contribution?
  • Children: Would your children be able to say, “I never doubted I was a priority with my mom and dad.”
  • Money: Could you say that you wisely used the money which God entrusted to you and that you had adequately provided for your loved ones?
  • Ministry: How many people could you identify that will be in heaven as a direct result of your influence?
  • Relationship with God: Would you be excited or fearful about the prospect of standing before your Creator?
  • Friendships: Could you identify people who loved you unconditionally and knew that you loved them?

I am not afraid of dying, but I do fear approaching that event with a long list of “if only’s.”  I cannot think of anything sadder than to spend my last days and hours contemplating “what might have been.”  

This series is not about dying but about living. There is an inseparable link between living well and dying well. The best way to ensure that you die without regrets is to live without regrets.

As Nelson Bell, father-in-law of Billy Graham, once said, “Only those who are prepared to die are really prepared to live.” In this series, we are going to look at eight resolves you can make that will guarantee a regret-free life and death. But first, we must understand three foundational assumptions before we can begin living a regret-free life.

1. The Certainty of Death (Hebrews 9:27; Psalm 90:3, 5-6, 10, 12)

The legendary football coach, Bum Phillips, said, “There are only two kinds of coaches: them that’s been fired and them that’s going to be!” There are only types of people: those who are dead and those you are gonna be! 

Have you come to grips with the fact that I am going to die? Do you realize that every second moves you closer to the end of life? As one sage observed, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the quicker it goes!

Many of us have difficulty accepting our mortality. We think that somehow we might escape death’s sting. Why do I spend every morning (OK, most mornings!) torturing my body on an exercise machine instead of sleeping an extra hour? Why do I gag down a bowl of fiber-rich cereal instead of the sausage biscuit I crave? One reason: I want to be healthy to avoid death.  Yet, I am going to die. Such disciplines are only postponing the inevitable.

2. The Reality of Regret (Hebrews 12:1; Luke 16:23-24)

Two catalysts have motivated me to prepare this series. First, it was remembering my father’s experience being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My father was given four months to live.  Most people would label my dad as successful. He was a Christian, he held an important position with a large corporation, he enjoyed an upper-middle-class income, he traveled frequently, and his family loved him.  

Yet, during the months preceding his death, I listened to my father lament over the “if only’s” of his life: trips he wished he had taken, career opportunities he should have maximized, words that should never have been spoken, and relationships that should have been more greatly appreciated. My dad’s final months on this earth were not happy ones. Through his experience, I discovered that final regrets have the power to extinguish the joy of an otherwise happy life.

That is one reason I am determined to approach my death with a short list of “if only’s.”  

But regrets are not reserved for the dying. My second motivation for this series is seeing friends, family members, and fellow Christians weighted down by regrets. Often it is some type of milestone that brings those regrets into sharp focus.

  • A child’s graduation from high school: “If only I had spent more time with him/her, I would not regret their going away to college so deeply.”
  • Termination from a job: “If only I had worked harder, I would not have lost my job.” Or, “If only I had chosen another, less volatile career, I would still be employed today.”
  • Retirement: “If only I had saved more money in my younger years, I could have enjoyed my retirement years more fully.”
  • Divorce: “If only I expended more effort in building this relationship, my marriage might not have ended.”
  • Death of a Parent: “If only I had told him/her more often how I really feel, I would not be plagued with guilt.”

It doesn’t always take a crisis to precipitate a case of “if only.” Sometimes just a few moments of quiet reflection can cause us to long for “what might have been.”  

If the first two assumptions for this series— the certainty of death and the reality of regret—have depressed you, the final foundational truth is really what this series is all about, and it offers tremendous hope.

3. The Possibility Of Change (Philippians 3:13-14)

You are probably familiar with the Nobel Prizes, which represent excellence in the arts and sciences. But you may not know the history behind these awards. Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made his fortune by inventing explosives and licensing their manufacture to foreign governments for the production of weapons.

One day Nobel’s brother died, and the newspaper accidentally ran Alfred’s obituary instead of his brother’s. Alfred had the rare opportunity to read how others would remember him. The obituary identified him as the inventor of dynamite, enabling nations to destroy one another.

Concerned that he would be remembered only as a merchant of death, he decided to rechannel the remainder of his life to more productive efforts. With a sizable chunk of his wealth, he established the Nobel prizes to encourage accomplishments that would benefit humanity.   

Today, few people know that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite; but many recognize him as someone who had a tremendous influence on humanity.

Although most of us will never achieve the fame and fortune of Alfred Nobel, all of us can redirect our time, money, emotions, and energy so that we both live and die without any regrets.  Perhaps as you honestly evaluate your relationships, career, finances, family life, and relationship with God, you realize you have “missed the mark” in both what you have wanted and, more importantly, in what God has desired for your life.

If so, I have some good news and bad news for you. The bad news is there is nothing you can do to regain yesterday’s lost time and opportunities. But the good news is there is plenty you can do to reshape tomorrow and eternity.


Full Passage: Philippians 3:13-14