A Discussion on Living Life to Preempt Regrets

Not long ago on my Facebook page, I retweeted a quote from John Piper. He wrote, “So much deep, heart-wrenching sorrow of regret among 60 somethings. I plead with you under 40: Preempt this!” A lively discussion followed about what the quote meant and how it applies to our lives. What follows is a portion of that discussion. (Names have been removed for privacy.)

J.C.: What's that mean?

D.H.: Not quite sure what this means as well...could you please clarify?

K.B.: I may be wrong, but I'm thinking that by the time you are in your 60's, you realize the really important things you should have done in life, instead of the road you took. By the time you figure out what's really important and what really matters, for eternity, you don't have the time or health to fulfill it. Make the right decisions (based on eternity) when you're young so that you will have no regrets.

E.N: John Piper wrote a book on retirement, Don’t Waste Your Life, and how so many people in our culture look forward to that time of life to play golf and collect seashells. I'm in that era right now and live in an over 55 community. Believe me, it's true. My goal and hope is that I leave a far better legacy to those who come behind me. I yearn to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant"!

Randy: To me it means that people later in life have many regrets that could have been avoided by making different choices earlier in life. Someone may one day wish he would have spent more time in the Word, worked harder on his marriage, invested more time with his children, wasted less time, overcome besetting sins, etc. So the point is, for those under 40 (or 30 or 50), do NOW what you will otherwise regret later on that you did not do. Preempt later sorrow by choosing to do now what you will then realize you should have done. Don't procrastinate obedience, holiness, purity, drawing close to God, serving others. Live now the way that (if you don't) you will one day wish you would have.

J.C.:  Well, I guess when I'm old I will regret what I have done in life. And so regret my life. Seems like I can't win. Or win for Him? I must be missing a point?

Randy: J.C., the whole point is that you CAN win, by living now in such a way that you will NOT have to regret it later. Piper's point is just another way of saying live wisely today, and you will save regrets later in life.

I've been rereading Piper's post trying to see what made this difficult to grasp. Maybe it sounded to some of you like he was saying it was INEVITABLE for people in their sixties to be plagued by regrets. To me he's not saying that at all; just saying that many people of that age DO have great regrets. And he's calling on those who are younger—teens, twenties and thirties especially ("under 40")—to live wisely and well now precisely because those later regrets are NOT inevitable. Indeed, they can be avoided by living well now. He's certainly not suggesting God doesn't forgive past sin. But one can be fully forgiven and still regret that he was unfaithful to his wife, that he wasn't there for his children, that he wasted so much time pursuing materialism. Does the above make sense to anyone? :)

D.H: I'm 61 and understand this perfectly. The years go by a lot faster than you think they will. Do it NOW!

T.S.: What if you choose to not have regret? What if you are a believer and you know you are willingly making decisions that are not God's best? What if you repeatedly choose to view pornography? Can you lose your salvation?

Randy: T.S., your “What if?” questions, and your example of viewing pornography, would be perfect illustrations of the unwise and disobedient choice that a person will later in life regret. Such behavior will result in loss of reward and the sadness of displeasing our Savior. It does not cause loss of salvation, but the ongoing choice to live a life of sin suggests that a person may not have been saved in the first place. The good news is, for the one who lives by faith, by the grace and power of Christ, SIN IS NOT INEVITABLE, AND REPENTANCE AND RIGHTEOUS CHOICES ARE FULLY POSSIBLE. If we make them, we please God and spare our lives of the ugliness and consequences of sin—including the eventual regret at a later age of having wasted our lives that could have been lived for the glory of God, the good of others, and for our own happiness and joy as well.

T.S. I know my behavior is not pleasing to the Lord. I worry every night I go to bed that I will wake up in hell.

N.M..: In this fallen world, many Christians make the right decisions, but do not inherit the promises. Are you condemning them, rubbing salt in the wound?

ClockRandy: N.M., I'm not sure how it would be rubbing salt in the wound to say that since many older people look back at their lives with regret, it would be good for younger people to use the time they have now to live well so as to avoid such later regrets for not having lived well. Rather than pouring salt in the wound, that is simply attempting to prevent the wound while it is still preventable.

People can make right decisions and still have very hard lives, obviously. But Piper wasn't talking about people regretting their right decisions, but their wrong ones. No one should ever regret having made right decisions, even if they were costly (you can feel loss and pain in doing a right thing, but that's different than regret). To answer your question, I wouldn't think of condemning them. Neither would Piper. I would suggest rereading the post. It's not rebuking people in their sixties; it's encouraging young people to live their lives faithfully to avoid the regrets of unfaithfulness that so many are plagued with later. (Of course, Christ can forgive them, but again, that's not the point that's being made.)

T.S., friend, don't let these past experiences overshadow you now. Christ offers forgiveness and empowerment to overcome any sin, including viewing pornography. Have hope. No need for despair. Life is tough, but there is forgiveness, joy and freedom in Christ awaiting you if you reach out for it.

TimeL.T.:  I saw this regret with my mother. My mom was a Christian, and we went to church twice on Sundays and also a Wednesday night service. We had a loving home. She took great care of our family and I had a wonderful childhood. But ALL of her spare time in her 30’s, 40's and some of her 50's, she spent reading romance novels, watching soap operas and many other "time wasting" behaviors that sucked her life dry.

In her late 50's she was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer that eventually took her life when she was 63. In the last few years of her life, she finally surrendered her daily agenda over to God and really lived for him. One of the last conversations I remember having with her she said, "I don't know where all the time went. It just seemed like yesterday that you were a child and I was full of life, and now I'm trying to get my affairs in order." I watched her breath her last breath and through this experience I realized that this is what will happen to me and all of us if we don't make every day count for God. We only have a little more time left to serve Jesus and use our gift of time to live for him. We need to finish this race strong!

Five minutes after we die we’ll know exactly how we should have lived. But then it will be too late to go back and change anything. God has given us his Word so we don’t have to wait until we die to know how we should have lived. There’s no second chance for the unbeliever—but also no second chance for the believer!

You and I have one life on earth to invest in Heaven. Let’s not miss the opportunity. Here’s a prayer for us: May what will be most important to us five minutes after we die, become most important to us now.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries