Being young is both an opportunity and a potential curse. The choice is always ours to make. What will you do with this short-lived stint in life? You can either use this time to focus on things that matter the most, or go on a high-way to Nonsenseville, where you will live to regret all your life.
A lot of much older people today simply live lives full of regret. Wishing they had done this, or done that. Wishing they had spent time with the people that matter. Wishing they had studied this or that. Wishing they had travelled here or there. So many regrets. So many "If onlys", and I can only but imagine how these thoughts can be so damaging and almost depressing in their very nature.
Forbes and Business Week carried stories a couple of years ago where they did interviews and research and compiled the biggest regrets that people usually have at the end of their lives, and I wish to provide some answers on how we could counter some of these potential regrets by equipping our minds, taking care of ourselves and doing all this right now while we are young.
What you will immediately notice is that people really do not regret not ever drinking more alcohol and not being more wasted, or not getting more sex, or not getting more money. You will clearly see from most of these lists (on the internet) that at the core of most people's regrets is their moving away from those things that make them truly human - their faith, their families and friends and their purpose in life.
Regret Number One
"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
The Guardian writes: "This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."
I relate too well to this. The pressure to live a life that "pleases so-and-so" is only too real for all of us. There is a real push that we feel to like what everyone likes, work where everyone wants us to work, do what everyone would like for us to do, and this is the real pressure of being young. The writer of the proverbs has words that are very clear as a warning and an encouragement:
"The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe." (Proverbs 29:25)
Look, as young people, we cannot afford to live for people's acceptance. As hip-hop artist Lecrae put it, "If you live for people's acceptance, you will die from their rejection."
Is it not true that we get crushed when we are not accepted? But the honest truth is, for those that are in Christ, we are already accepted. God is on our side. He is right there with us and we do not need any validation from anyone as we set to do what he has called us to do in this world. This will look differently for some people: some will have others forcing them to pursue a certain career path because it has more money, or to pursue a certain relationship because it seems more convenient. No. We seek what God wants, and although we do seek godly counsel, we do not put our trust and hope in whether people validate us. No. Do not do this please!
I had to wrestle with this myself in 2014 when I got to a crossroad between pursuing a career in Journalism and Media Studies after I graduated, or pursuing ministry which is obviously "less sexy". I heard people talk. I did not listen. Ministry is so hard. Contrary to popular belief, there is no bags of money waiting to be thrown at ministers. And the choice didn't make financial sense, and it still doesn't. Some folks, friends and family thought I was an okayish journalist, so my leaving right after graduating was a little offsetting. Yet I do not regret a bit of it. Serving Jesus with all my time is the best thing I have ever chosen.
Regret Number Two
"I wish I hadn't worked so hard and abandoned my family and friends."
Working hard is a good thing right? Chasing that bank? Making that money and providing for ourselves and families? Yea, sure: but at what cost though? I mean, this probably applies more to my brothers and sisters who are married. It is a pretty real thing to put all our energy to working to achieve this or that goal, make this or that margin, get this or that promotion. But do we ever consider that our families come first before any of these achievements?
If we succeed out there in the world yet at home we are horrible, terrible and absent husbands or father, then what is the point? God's desire is that families thrives. Marriages thrive. Parenting thrives. And when any of these are neglected, it is no wonder that people who have reached the end of their lives have regretted not fully investing their time and attention to their families. This is an indictment to men, in particular. While the drive to chase dreams is God-given, there is a line when it becomes idolatrous, and we put it on ourselves to be "the source" of satisfaction for our families while the truth is, God is actually the provider in this while we work hard and do whatever else he has called us to do.
You can read all the bible says about family here.
Regret Number Three
"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."
This is just a question of authenticity and openness about where we are both emotionally and mentally. As young people, especially in our day and age, there is so much that still has to be said in our context concerning mental health. I would pray and hope that we find it within us to be both respectful and authentic in expressing what we fear, what we worry about and what we are struggling with.
This works out at a personal level. Brother, if you like that girl and want to spend the rest of your life with her please go on ahead and tell her. What are you waiting for? Do it! Sister, if you have a bone to chew with your other sister who you know has offended you and you are filled with resentment and bitterness towards them, please set up a coffee date, meet up and chat about it today!
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
But this also works out at a social level. Man, there is so much that we see that is bad in our societies. Speak out about it. We should speak out against injustices against women in Africa, against people of colour in the western world, against children and minor in many parts of the world. Young people have been at the forefront of not only God's mission to save the world (Daniel, David, Joseph, the twelve disciples) but they have also been at the helm of seismic changes in the socio-political orders of our societies. See, older people have liabilities. They have lived lives and have a lot to lose, and desire to maintain the status core even when it is vile, evil and unjust. But not so for young people. Young people were the ones killed in 1976 in the Soweto Uprisings, young people were the ones who went into war during the various liberation struggles on our continent. At 15 or 16, these young Africans refused to be quiet. You can refuse too. We will stand against all forms of evil and wickedness and the dehumanisation of others. We cannot be silent. Silence itself is violence.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. (Proverbs 31:8)
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Again, all this is done respectfully and through ways and means that are honouring to the Lord.
Regret Number Four
"I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."
Friends, do not let go of good old friends, ever! The fact that this is a real regret for people in their dying beds should give us shivers and wake us up from our slumber.
Listen, friends should not be only as good as how much you need them. We do not just befriend people because of what they can give us although that is a real thing that true friendship looks more like giving of yourself to the other for their benefit and to the glory of God. And yet, although true friendship is reciprocal, it is likely also nuanced in its reciprocity. What do I mean? Simply this: sometimes your friend needs you more than you need them, right? And you have to come through. And you will also need them in similar ways sometimes. We have to invest in good friendships in our lives.
On Tupac's Greatest Hits album, the song Unconditional Love captures a glimpse of what such friendship looks like. Pac says:
Just got the message you've been calling all week/ Been out here hustling on these streets, ain't had a chance to speak/ But you know, with you and me it's all G/ We could never be enemies, cause you been such a good friend to me/ Where would I be without my dogs?/ No wonder why when times get hard/ Cause it ain't easy being who we are/
I wish I could say I first learnt of what authentic friendship looks like in the Church, but I didn't. I learnt it on the block. I learnt ride or die with the dudes around me growing up. Right now I have some of the greatest friends in the world, and I am so thankful. God's Word can compels us better than Tupac can when it says:
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17)
"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24)
Friendship can be broken down through gossip (Proverbs 16:28) or grudges (Proverbs 17:9). Friends should be chosen carefully because, as Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
We are not to associate with those who entice us to do wrong, no matter how appealing their “friendship” seems to be. Those whose “feet rush to sin” should be avoided. The path they choose is no place for a Christian whose choice should be to follow the “path of the righteous.”
So, please enjoy being young, would you? Read more, love more, try new things, be authentic and real. In all of this, while seeking to honour the Lord in your youth, and fleeing all kinds of youthful impulses and lusts.