To Whom Do You "Owe One"?

Lisa Brennan-Jobs is the daughter of the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. Recently she wrote an account of her final visit with her father from whom she was often estranged. About a month before he died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56, her father spoke words of deep regret to her. He told her, “I didn’t spend enough time with you when you were little. I wish we had more time.” When she told him it was ok, he replied, “No, it’s not okay. I didn’t spend enough time with you. I should have spent the time. Now it is too late.” He looked her in the eyes, teared up, and then said, “I owe you one.” During their final week together he repeated that phrase over and over, “I owe you one.”1

Regret...that emotion of sorrow and/or repentance one experiences when he realizes a missed opportunity—especially regarding something he should have done, or he wanted to do, but either didn’t, or couldn’t. The level of regret is intensified to the degree one feels either no opportunity or no power to rectify what has or has not happened. 

Regrets come in many forms—dreams unrealized, goals not met, service not rendered, purpose unfulfilled, a hobby not developed, health ignored. As significant as those regrets can be, life teaches that none can touch the regret of missed opportunities in personal relationships.

Sadly for many people, especially men, it takes the call of death to trigger realization their relational priorities are out of whack. Approaching death is an effective alarm clock. It rings loudly. And when it rings, the sleeper awakes to the realization that there’s no snooze button to buy more time. For many in that situation, as in the case of Steve Jobs, it is too late to do anything but express regret and beg forgiveness. If death is sudden, there’s not even opportunity to do that—and regret is magnified. 

To whom do you owe one relationally? Wouldn’t it be better if someone else’s heartache, and not your own, could be your relational wake-up call? Wouldn’t it be better if a blog citing someone else’s deep regret over mismanaged priorities—over missed relational opportunities—could shake you out of your relational sleep?

If you’re reading this, then you’re still alive. If you’re still alive, that means there is still time for you to address your relational regrets. But understand this important truth. Being regretful over a missed relational opportunity does not guarantee you’ll do anything to rectify it. Only when your regret makes you sorry enough to have a change of heart and mind, will you then have a change of action. That’s the truth Jesus spoke when He said in Luke 3:8, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (NIV) 

Don’t die regretting that your regrets made no real difference in your life.

1 Small Fry, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, 2018, p. 372.

Jerry Long

Jerry Long is a retired minister [38 years] living in metro Greenville, SC. He and his wife Lynne have two daughters and three grandchildren. He holds degrees from Clemson University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He may be reached at