A Life That Could Have Been: A Single Catholic Man Reflects


I sit on the couch slurping a light beer and watching the Food Network. Later, I swing by Wendy’s for a cheeseburger with fries and a Diet Coke. Still bored, I go to the movie theater and catch the latest flick. Afterward, I come home and surf random websites.

And I rarely stop to ask myself: Is this the stuff that an amazing life is made of?

If I were standing outside myself, looking in on my life, I’d have to say, “Not really. That guy’s kind of lame. He’s not making very good use of his time.”

Recently I read Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and he talks about living your life as a great story. When he realizes that he hasn’t been living his life that way, Miller writes:

“I stood for a while and heard the voices of children who didn’t exist and felt the tender touch of a wife who wanted me to listen to her. I felt, at once, the absent glory of a life that could have been.”

And there you have it: “A life that could have been.” Every single day we have the chance to make our life “a life that could have been.” Why aren’t we doing it?

When I’m not wasting time watching TV, I’m usually reading. I often read about people like St. Francis embarking on a mission of peace to the Muslim sultan of his time. Or Thomas Merton, seeking his true self and writing poetry to the glory of God.

But here’s the problem: I read, get inspired, and then… I pick up the TV remote and check out the latest news on CNN. Why am I not getting out and doing something like these saints I admire? It’s perfectly within my power to do so. But I typically don’t.

Too often, the most inspiring thing I do is eke out a morning prayer and attend Sunday Mass. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot in my life that would make someone sit up and say, “Wow, that guy’s different. He’s living a truly great life.”

When I think about how this applies to the dating life, it makes me wonder: If I was a woman, am I the kind of guy that I’d want to date?

When I think of what women might be looking for in a mate, I think of several things: besides being tall, dark, and handsome, they probably want a guy who’s super buff and rolls out of bed smelling good and goes to his high-powered job as a CEO or something. He looks sharp in a sleek suit, driving his new Benz. He probably doesn’t sport a T-shirt and jeans or drive a light blue Saturn (guilty). I mean, come on, they don’t even make Saturns any more.

I don’t drive an awesome car or wear Armani. I’m not buff either, but I do run on a regular basis. I sign up for half marathons because it forces me to get out and exercise. And when I do that, I’m being a good steward of my body and taking care of the temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s a small thing, but I’m getting closer to living the kind of life that “could have been.”

So how do we start living a better story?

For each of us, it looks different, of course. And I think it usually starts with doing small things. Maybe you need to take a risk and make a new friend. Maybe you need to call an old acquaintance and have a conversation you’ve been putting off. Maybe you need to tell someone, “I’m sorry.” These are seemingly small things that add up slowly, almost imperceptibly, toward creating a better kind of life.

Whether it’s dating or finance or any other aspect of life, maybe all you need to do is just start asking the questions:

  • What am I doing to make myself the kind of person that I would admire?
  • What am I doing to make myself the kind of mate that my future spouse needs?
  • What am I doing to be worthy of my future mate?

We can ask these questions and we can act upon them. Nothing is stopping us but us.

So today, I’m going to start asking the little questions that lead to big changes. I’m going to put down the remote for just a little while, email an old friend, lace up my running shoes, and start living “a life that could have been.”



  1. James-1082060 June 28, 2014 Reply

    I know this is an old post, but from my perspective it gives an important hint as to how and why God structures life the way he does. Apologies ahead of time, as I know this site is oriented towards finding matches and my post will have little to do with match making, but nonetheless the author’s topic went largely unappreciated.

    The point the author makes I see as the same made by Christ in the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25 14-30) “For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away.”

    The “life that could have been” is not about looking at the past, it’s about recognizing missed opportunities that might have made a difference in yours and others lives because you failed to have the necessary abilities to take action. By sitting and watching TV (I’m using TV as the metaphor, there are many things we do to waste time and avoid responsibility) in the future you will not likely have the skills needed to make a difference when you are called on to act, if you even hear the call. Not that God can’t give you the necessary skills, but the existence of free usually means you are given the choice to act or not. Failing to exercise the gifts God gives you means they likely will not be in a state of readiness, and because of this you will likely choose to be unavailable to accomplish the tasks at hand. “All abilities come from God, and we can do nothing without him” … I know this, but he has given all of us abilities that we fail to cultivate, and we all have pasts that reflect our poor stewardship of these gifts. Seeing the wife that never was or the child that was never born is a reminder of this poor stewardship, and a motivation to work harder in the present so that you are prepared to answer the call.

    Treat every moment as if you are training for the kingdom of God. Try and recognize just what your talents are and then put them to use as a way of exercising them (and as a way to promote God’s work). It’s hard work, and Lord knows I am not a good “How To” example. But I do look back at what might have been, and I realize that if I had worked harder to exercise the gifts God gave me that many of the outcomes of my life likely would have been different. When I meet with St. Peter (hopefully) to review my life I’m going to have already seen and admitted to myself a large number of my failings and poor choices. I am a slow learner, but I am recognizing some gifts and working to exercise them so that I can attempt to do God’s will should he send the second chance my way.

  2. Cyntia-845600 June 24, 2012 Reply

    I love this! That’s what I call motivation! Never give up, because when you add up little changes, you end up with big ones. God bless 🙂

  3. Ann-69118 June 24, 2012 Reply

    Life is what you make it. Why worry of what could have been. I’m doing things in my life that I would never imagined 15 years ago..kayaking, White water rafting, hiking, skydiving, travel and volunteer work. Did I have kids no. Do I regret it ….sometimes but God sent me down a different path and I make the most of what I do have.

  4. Shannon-829891 June 21, 2012 Reply

    I guess I am old fashioned. . .I think when people look on the outside they are looking to the TV images of a relationship. Noone looks perfect in the morning or has the minty fresh breathe upon rising! We all use the John and sometimes drip coffee on our shirt. Why does everything have to be so picture perfect in this day and age. We each have baggage whether we want to admit it or not. I think being active in the game of dating is the hard part. People can ignore a flirt on the internet, can simply close a connection without so much as a hello. But what if our perfect partner is just that. . .perfect for us. . .God may be asking you to look for something we are unwilling to meet.The challenge is to face each connection with the possibly of what if? God may be asking each of us to watch for our mail ordered bride or groom and waiting to see our reaction to what he knows is in our best interest.

  5. Katherine-868943 June 19, 2012 Reply

    Do you know what I want? I want a guy who will be there for children, or who can fix a lawnmower. I want a guy who goes to Mass and pays attention. I want a guy who tries that extra bit to make himself better. I want a guy who tells me I’m gorgeous even when I feel horrible. He should come in sweaty from working hard, yes, in a stained-up old t-shirt that only he can love and heavy-duty blue jeans. I want a guy who trusts that I’m smarter about some things than he is, but isn’t afraid to show off his brains now and then. And yes, he needs to pay attention to things like whether I’ve bothered to do something special or put on makeup or something. Does he take care of the car he drives? Absolutely. Does it matter what kind it is? Not really, unless of course it’s something that’s going to take more time to maintain than to drive! (Or if it’s Bumblebee – if you’re driving a Transformer, you might have bigger issues to worry about.)

    Sometimes society puts more expectations on us than other people actually have. I think people are constantly looking at my weight. They’re not! I just worry about it so much it’s taken over.

  6. Josephine-611497 June 18, 2012 Reply

    Great article for reflection and action. Action is everything really:-)
    Thanks for sharing, valuable insight for us all singles with freedom, time and lots of potential and opportunities.

  7. Abraham-859852 June 18, 2012 Reply

    A graduate of the Warner Brothers TV Writers Program; a writer for FOX, Cartoon Network, and the Hallmark Channel; and a part-time instructor for Act One? Whoa Chris, I call that living the life, that’s impressive. And fantastic article, thanks for sharing!

  8. Christian-253779 June 18, 2012 Reply

    Thomas Merton is not a saint. What is so hard about this concept that people don’t understand, or want to accept? It’s getting tiresome. Next I will be hearing about that wonderful saint writer from South America, Paolo Coelho… enough to make my eyes bleed.

    • Tona-868398 June 19, 2012 Reply

      I agree, Thonas Merton is not a saint and he will never be! Now Thomas Moore (spelled wrong, I am sure)… Is a martyr and a saint… Also, with all due respect to the author and his TV involvement… I think turning on the TV or Internet or movies is the problem. Our society has lost touch with healthy quiet times of solitude… And that leads to no interior life–emptiness… This situation is sad, makes for some pitiful relationships and certainly does not make great life stories or sainthood.. Sigh… Let’s all start by moving away from the TV! 🙂

  9. Dominic-864113 June 16, 2012 Reply

    blue green algae vcaps good for health anyways.
    Article was interesting he was doing what most normal regular men do as I could too but well I lack well its a bit hard for me but I would go out more if she wanted to and if we wen out together. Then he heard a wife, offspring in his future thats good. Those things what to look for is good. Voiding a mistake is the best option if possible just make sure its not that bad of a mistake u cant take back but this one u can every good….gives a refund thats a saying right I didnt get a literal refund but a spiritual refund.

  10. Dave-319619 June 16, 2012 Reply

    Is this true even if you’re in your 50’s?

  11. Sharlene-562044 June 15, 2012 Reply

    Oh Joy, just what I needed. Another piece of writing that tells me exactly how unproductive I have been in life. Thank you. 🙂

    • Chris Easterly
      Chris Easterly June 16, 2012 Reply

      You and me both, Sharlene. 🙂

      And to answer Lucy above, yes the Donald Miller book is absolutely worth reading. It nudges you in a very encouraging way to consider whether you’re living a good story with your life. Anything I said on this blog he says better in the book.

  12. Jeannette-802495 June 14, 2012 Reply

    All to often we think of what could have been. Why not think of what could happen tomorrow. One way to get out of the tv syndrome is to join like minded groups. They will get you going. Try the Knights for men and Catholic Daughters of the Americas for the women. Or join a pro life group at your church, there are so many groups to join and when you get involved with them you meet wonderful people and do much for others which give you much joy, comfort and just fulfillment. Perhaps you might meet that special person thorough one of these groups., who knows who has a sister, brother, daughter or son out there just waiting for you. And if there isn’t one, perhaps being single isn’t so bad if we are sharing our time and talents with others who appreciate them and you.

  13. Lucy-41785 June 13, 2012 Reply

    Too funny:
    I read, get inspired, and then…” sounds very familiar, except for me it’s a rerun of Friends instead of CNN (so you are one step ahead of me, Chris.) BTW, don’t keep us in suspense…is the book by Donald Miller worth reading? I suspect a lot of us are in the same boat as you, doing okay, but could be doing more. Your article reminds me of some similar books I’ve been reading that urge me to make changes. Thanks for adding one more voice to urge me that it’s up to me to start the ball rolling. Sometimes it takes a few repetitions for me to finally get the message. Here’s hoping this will be the ‘last straw!’ 🙂

  14. Tim-307635 June 13, 2012 Reply

    Interesting article, but as a fellow Saturn owner, I have to laugh at your description of the perfect guy. In my experiences, the guys who drive a Benz and live in a million dollar home are probably also hundreds of thousands of dollars underwater in debt. And while a few guys may rise to the level of CEO, I’d prefer to stay at a lower level but still retain a heart. As you can see, I don’t always agree with the “grass is always greener” philosophy. The closing questions are good though: What can I do to make myself a better person? Don’t forget to find your happiness along the way as well!

  15. Stephen-725391 June 11, 2012 Reply

    Sorry, this final statement – “start living “a life that could have been.”” is WRONG. The statement is PROPERLY made – start living a life that CAN BE. NOTHING in the past can be changed, the PROPER use of the PRESENT affects the FUTURE.

    • Adel-818653 June 11, 2012 Reply

      I agree with you, Stephen. This article can apply to us women too. Thank you.

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