A friend and I are at a crossroads. Not about our friendship — that’s not in question — but in that each of us finds ourselves currently on the precipice of a new beginning. (We always do everything at the same time, except have calamities; we try to take turns doing that.)
Much of that new beginning has to do with the fact that, after a quarter century of dealing with the logistical considerations that come with motherhood, we are both looking smack in the face of something both wonderful and unsettling: freedom! Freedom from the daily parameters of school drop-off and pick-up times, freedom from being the main mode of transport for kids, freedom from making sure there’s food for lunches in the house, etc. – all the little things that keep life clicking along.
That sounds great, right? And it is; it’s exciting! But it’s also a tiny bit unsettling, if you’ve been in the habit of considering everyone else’s needs and agenda before your own for years and years. What to do with all that freedom?
Yesterday, a priest/friend asked me a question, in regards to the looming dilemma of what I should do with my freedom. The question he posed was this:
“How do you discern?”
Now, discern is a lovely, churchy word. It gets tossed around a lot when you’re talking about being called by God to a certain ministry. But ministry doesn’t necessarily mean a church-related job or task; rather, it just indicates a way of being, an intentional attempt to align your God-given talents with a desire to live in a way that betters the world.
So when my priest/friend asked me how I discern, he was asking how I get quiet, and calm the monkeys in my mind, and make decisions about what I want to do, and how, and when.
My answer was to laugh. “I don’t,” I said. “I just react.”
But it’s a valid question, because discernment is important, and people come at it in different ways.
But it is time for some discernment, and time for courage. Because what I don’t want to end up with, when things change again – as they inevitably will – is regret.
With discernment, and regret, in mind, it’s time to revisit Bronnie Ware!
Bronnie Ware is an Australian woman who worked a variety of jobs before landing in palliative care, where the primary aim is relieving the pain and stress of dying. Last year I came across an interview about a book she wrote called “The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.” Based on the experiences of Ware’s patients at the end of their lives, here are the five biggest regrets:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
According to Ware, this was the most common regret. Ware said, “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship,” Ware said. “All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Ware said, “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved,” Ware said.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice,” Ware said. “They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
So this is the challenge of discernment, to figure out how to live in a way that employs your God-given talents, aligns with your principles and the mark you wish to make on the world, and leaves you with no regrets.
Time to get started!
If you need a little inspiration, and Braco’s silent gaze isn’t doing it for you, here’s more information about Bronnie Ware’s book: Bronnie Ware, Huffington Post . And here’s Eric Clapton singing about going down to the crossroads: Clapton, Crossroads. And here is King Chunk: