Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Spring is a wonderful time for studying the patterns of parents, their youth and the coming of age. It is a time for blood, sweat and tears- and it is not always the young men and women who are anxious for what tomorrow will bring. Parents who once laughed with their sons and daughters have begun to discover a lump in their throat. They may even grow misty-eyed with the thought that a beloved child will no longer be a part of their home.
Oh, yes, they will joke. I heard one parent the other day. “Most children’s first words are ‘Mommy” or “Daddy.’ Mine were, ‘Do I have to use my own money?” Another father resolutely announced, “All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with white carpet is one of them.” Yes, parents will laugh for a little while longer at a son or daughter’s expense, but inside they are weeping.
The senior year and that final graduation day are tough for parents. They go to the ceremony as mothers and fathers. They come home as contemporaries, and after 18 years of child-rearing they are unemployed. So they spend the whole last senior year fretting about the lessons they’ve taught, and they examine their own lives and values. To a parent, every day suddenly becomes one last teaching moment. No doubt, you’ve learned that. When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.
Of course, the same could be said of this morning’s sermon, “Do you want a piece of pastoral advice? No. Well, you’re going to get it anyway.” I too would like to offer you one last teaching moment. Interestingly, it is the same word that Jesus shared with his disciples when he left them one fine spring. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” To the friends and family of the Class of 2015, I would like to share with you my prayer, and hope and counsel that you may live and enjoy life without regrets.
Certainly, we all live with regrets. The Exploding Dictionary’ defines regret as “Pain of mind on account of something done or experienced in the past, with a wish that it had been different; a looking back with dissatisfaction or with longing.” Regret, however, doesn’t have to be a prison holding you back. My friends, let me share with you today, three thoughts for living life without regrets. It is wisdom drawn from Jesus’ Great Commission the words we heard in the children’s message. Find your passions, enjoy life now, and never underestimate the power of your actions.
First, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” in more colloquial words- Find your passions and go. Like most teen-agers, John Goddard had a wealth of heart-pumping dreams. One ordinary day in 1940, he bothered to write 127 of his life dreams on a pad of yellow paper. Most lists like that wind up in the attic with old report cards and letters from grandma. My mother had painstakingly placed my lists and essays in a very large Rubbermaid case which was moved from her attic to our basement. I have now searched the contents and found only three dreams, invent a car that flies, serve as an ambassador and become rich. Ordained ministry obviously wasn’t in the picture in those days. John Goddard’s list, however, became a blueprint for life. In 1972, Life magazine reported that, at age 47, Goddard had achieved 103 of his original 127 dreams. That article, entitled ‘One Man’s Life of No Regrets,’ detailed his Master Dream List and became one of the most requested reprints in Life’s long history. His list included a vast spectrum of dreams, including the following: visiting eight world-class rivers; studying 12 primitive cultures; climbing 16 of the tallest mountains; carrying out careers in medicine and exploration; visiting every country in the world; learning to fly an airplane; becoming an Eagle Scout; riding in a blimp, balloon, and glider; playing the flute and the violin; going on a church mission; teaching a college course; becoming a member of the Explorer’s Club; and many more. He told the Life reporter that, “When I was 15 all the adults I knew seemed to complain, ‘Oh, if only I’d done this or that when I was younger.’ They let life slip by them. I was sure that if I planned for it, I could have a life of excitement and fun and knowledge.” At age 74, he has accomplished 109 of his list of 127 goals.
Now, I might dismiss John Goddard as a classic overachiever. But after reading his list of goals, and studying his story, I am reminded that our plans for life need not be so focused, so that our failure to meet them will bring regret. Instead, you need to find your passions. John Goddard’s story reminds us that our plans for life may be detailed and task oriented, but they must also be broad in spectrum. Find your passions in life- not just one dream. For if that one great dream fails, your life will seem empty, aimless and filled with regret. Instead, find your passions and go.
Second, enjoy life now. Enjoying life is often viewed as a selfish act, and sometimes it is. I am reminded of a little sign I saw by a teller in a discount store. “I can only please one person each day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow isn’t looking too good, either.” For you, enjoying life may be for your pleasure only. So Jesus’ words to the disciples may not seem so appealing, “Teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” We don’t like it when someone tells us to obey what they have commanded- even Jesus. How can such a command be an invitation to enjoy life?
Life wasn’t meant to be easy. Yes, yes, of course, you’ve heard that by now. But when you get to be in your 50s, 60s, 70s, one of life’s haunting and recurring disappointments is what you could have been. The poet Ed Sissman writes- “Men past forty Get up nights Look out at city lights And wonder where they made the wrong turn and why life is so long.” Yes, it all begins with the regretful refrain, “If only. If only I’d had more sense/luck/whatever, I would have.” You know that you can’t undo what has happened, but those things haunt you nevertheless.
Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to obey his commandments is not a warning of life’s potential and imminent “If onlys” and “I would haves.” But rather it is an invitation for you to enjoy the fullness of the life God intended for you now. Consider the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Do not worry about your life. Have no fear, little flock. I have come that you should have life and live it abundantly.” Yes, Jesus invited his disciple to obey his commandments so that they could enjoy a God centered life now, and so they would not be haunted by regrets later. That is his invitation for you as well. Enjoy God’s little blessings now- without regrets.
After learning diagnosis of her terminal cancer Erma Bombeck wrote: I would have talked less and listened more. ~ I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded. ~ I would have eaten the popcorn in the “GOOD” living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace. I’d have cherished every moment realizing that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle. ~ When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.” ~ There would have been more “I love you’s” and more “I’m sorry’s” …but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute…..look at it and really see it … live it … and never give it back. My friends, enjoy life here and now.
Third, never underestimate the power of your actions. US President John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” With one small gesture you can change a person’s life, or, with one simple look you can send someone down the toughest spiral of confusion and hate. The truth is, you are you—the only you in all the world and you can make a difference.
There is something very special in each and every one of us. Never underestimate the power of your actions. You have been gifted with the ability to make a difference in this world and if you follow your heart — the world will indeed be blessed! And there will be no regrets. God has arranged the universe to encourage creatures to start afresh. Almost everything is renewable. As the saying goes, ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’
Finally, Jesus taught his disciples. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Why is this such an important word? Because, it is a reminder that in the place of regret, God has given us in Jesus Christ a steady presence of hope. Hope is more than optimism. Optimism may be a good natural trait, but have no religious connections at all. Hope is not conditional upon your troubles being removed. Hope means God is with you in trouble and in triumph. Hope means the God who was with his people in the past will be with them always. You may be certain, if God is with you, regret does not have to have the last word.
Dear friends, parents and members of the Class of 2015, you may not have asked for pastoral advice, but you got it anyway. As one chapter in life ends, and a new chapter begins, our Savior invites you to go forth and to live without regrets, find your passions and go, enjoy life now, and never underestimate the power of your actions. “And remember, God will be with always, to the end of the age.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.