Stan Paine

Stan Paine, CSL

Reflecting—and Acting

Winter is a good time to reflect on our lives.  In doing so, many of us spend considerable time regretting past situations we wish we had handled differently.  It’s easy to get stuck in our regrets, bemoaning the fact that there is nothing we can do now about the situation. But if we can see these regrets as learning opportunities, rather than solely as sources of misery, we can use them to guide our future actions and thereby, perhaps, to enhance our happiness.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian palliative care nurse who has spent considerable time with patients who were nearing the end of their lives.  She has asked many of those in her care if they had any regrets.  Five themes emerged as consistent responses from these conversations.  She wove these themes into a book titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing”*.  The regrets of those questioned provide a joint legacy which can help us to re-examine and possibly to re-prioritize our lives. The top five regrets are:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

What lessons can you learn from the lives of others—and from your own reflections?  Are there ways in which you can act now to ameliorate one or more of the same regrets, while still very much alive, to honor these lessons from those who learned them shortly before dying?  What actions would help you to do so—to use a regret to motivate positive change?  Think about it.  Winter is a good time of the year for reflecting—and for acting …

*-Source:  Ware, Bronnie (2012).  The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.  Bloomington, IN:  Balboa Press.

The Spirit of Serving Others

What does it mean to serve others?  Is there a difference between volunteering and serving?  It has been said that volunteering reveals what we do, but serving reveals what we bring to what we do—a generous heart and the spirit of ministering to the needs of others.  Volunteerism might be an active response—willing or reticent—to a spoken or perceived need, but serving seems to imply a spiritual dimension to how we give of our time and talents.

A man walked down his street one day, picking up the little messes left behind by others—animals and humans.  When asked why he did this, he replied, “We must help to create the world we want to live in.”   His reply is reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi’s often heard quote “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”  A genuine sense of caring for those in need and a heartfelt willingness to help create this change reflect the spirit of service, whether it is tending to people’s need for food, clothing or shelter; providing for their physical or emotional well-being; creating beautiful spaces for them or contributing to a whole host of other human interests or needs.  These are the gifts of service offered by so many people in our world.

One might think it unremarkable that so many elders give so much time to causes that are important to them.  After all, don’t they have more discretionary time than those who are younger?  Perhaps, but some serve despite physical limitations, decreased mobility and many other options for filling that time.  Perhaps there is something about growing older that moves us to want to give of ourselves in service to others—to pay forward some of the blessings we have received in life—to find purpose in our days—to live out a faith often expressed through social ministries.  As elders, we seek community and we seek meaning in our days.  We find both of these as we live out the gifts of the spirit by serving others.

Stan Paine is a Certified Sage-ing Leader who has been actively involved in bringing Elder wisdom into his local church community in Eugene, Oregon.  We will be periodically publishing several of his blogs on the SI website.  Here is the last series for now.