The times in which we live seem to be all about accumulating and consuming, but what if life’s really is a process of phases that require giving away and letting go.
Having been involved in pastoral ministry for 30 years, I have been called to visit patients whose recovery was uncertain. Without exception, I‘ve never spoken with someone facing death who shared how much they regretted the things they’d done. The conversation always gravitates around things left undone.
The conversations always revolve around what they hadn’t given and what they hadn’t let go of. I guess nothing defines our lives as well as contemplating the day of our death.
What have I learned from these conversations?
We live in a consumer-driven culture preoccupied with the consumption of goods and services and the accumulation of material products and wealth. One repeated theme of all these conversations is the idea, “you can’t take it with you.”
I’ve yet to see a U-Haul playing a meaningful part in a funeral procession.
The regret was about not having given more of their time, talents and treasures for the benefit of others. With time no longer on their side, they regretted not being able to go back and give away their life.
The realization: A giving life is really a living life.
The takeaway from these conversations must be that the art of truly living is mastered by those who have embraced the process of giving away their lives for something capable of transcending death and the grave.
The other part of these conversations are like a connect-the-dots picture. When completed properly, it brings abstract concepts into sharp focus.
The idea of giving away tangible things like talents and treasure is one thing, but the process of letting go is often another thing all together. It usually involves less concrete cares that are immaterial in nature like holding a grudge against someone you know you should have let go of a long time ago.
For example, I have dealt with bouts of depression my whole life. I reached a breaking point 15 years ago. I realized while journaling I still had unforgiveness in my life and needed to let go in order to move on.
But who did I need to forgive as I already had worked through an extensive forgiveness process? Turns out it wasn’t a who I needed to forgive but a what. My unforgiveness wasn’t about what happen to me as much as it was about what hadn’t happen to me. Deep down I felt life owed me a dad and hadn’t delivered and I was harboring a very abstract unforgiveness.
I desperately needed to let go so real healing could begin. All the conversations about letting go always revolved around the regret of harboring unhealthy feelings and allowing them, like unnecessary cargo aboard a skiff, to weigh down and eventually sink their emotional vessels.
The takeaway from these conversations is simple, “letting go really is holding on.” And those who constantly take inventory of their emotional cargo, discarding any stowaway feelings of unforgiveness, fear and anger, are most likely to sail on to their finish line without the burdensome regret of not letting go of emotionally soul sinking cargo.
The short end of the long story is life’s a learning process and a series of phases we pass through on our way to more eternal shores.
Moving on to a more meaningful life can be encompassed only by those who refused to become entangled in life’s regrets that only serve to deny them safe passage to the Promise Land.
Those who learn to travel light have fewer regrets in the end and are happier on all the shores they end up sailing. But so many people in these end-of-life conversations realize, too late, their own controlling natures were responsible for stowing away and repressing emotional cargo. It causes them to sink prematurely instead of safely arriving at the shores of no regret.
Who is the captain of your ship and is their control leading you to an end full of regrets or and end full of rewards?
I look forward to seeing you all on the other shore. Smooth sailing.
Dr. T.J. Kimble of Radcliff is a clinical pastoral counselor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.