For most of us a bucket is defined pragmatically as “a typically cylindrical vessel for catching, holding, or carrying liquids or solids”. Perhaps coupled with the colloquial expression “kick the bucket” to describe death, the idea of a “bucket list” to describe a pail full of tasks one wishes to accomplish before dying was popularized by the 2007 movie: “The Bucket List.”
This unique list of specific accomplishments that an individual hopes to experience or accomplish before they can no longer do them is probably a product of a free society. Individuals who struggle to meet their daily needs probably don’t dwell much upon what they want to do before they die. The priority is making it through each day and waking up the next morning.
When we are young and optimistic about the future we don’t really think much about what we want to do before we die. So, the entire project holds little interest because we have the whole world ahead of ourselves. However, in time, our bucket lists can be quite extensive. Travel to distant lands, financial accomplishments, personal goals and dreams all materialize on this list that has the potential to become ever expanding and inclusive. At this stage of life our ‘bucket list’ has a tendency to grow as we experience more of
life and appreciate the world around us and within ourselves.
However, in my own observations of human behavior over the years I’ve begun to notice an interesting thing about bucket lists: the bucket seems to get smaller as we grow older.
For some, this may mean that they were able to accomplish most of the things on their lists during their lifetime, meaning there are fewer remaining things for them to keep on this list. They have stopped adding to the list and, perhaps, establish a final goal of accomplishing everything that remains.
For others, it means that their desires for accomplishment begin to wane as they lose interest in the dreams and ambitions of their younger days. In fact, it would seem that this list is more easily misplaced or even forgotten as we age.
In one sense this can be very sad. At one extreme we can imagine someone whose life has become devoted to accomplishing everything on their list. Once the list is finished, the next logical question is: “Now what?” At the extreme we can imagine someone finding that their purpose in life has now ceased to exist. I don’t think there are many people in this category…or, could I be wrong?
The writer of Ecclesiastes–most commonly believed to be King Solomon in his final days–had lived life to the max to experience everything “under the sun” and to uncover the secret to happiness and contentment (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18). His conclusion?
What a tragedy! To have lived life to the fullest, experiencing everything the world has to offer only to conclude it was a waste of time, like a crazy man in a field chasing after the wind. Of course the Byrds version of the popular 1955 Pete Seeger song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” capitalized on this theme based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. I’ve often wondered if people understood the context within which these words were written more than 3,000 years ago.
In the end, it seems to me that bucket lists are useful when they point towards something greater than one’s self. As we age we begin to appreciate our finite nature. We also begin to realize that the author of Ecclesiastes actually had it right for life lived “under the sun” without a view of what lies beyond. Having eternity planted in one’s heart is more a source of despair than encouragement leading to a type of epicureanism or existentialistic way of viewing life.
As I, myself, age and begin the process of attending more funerals than weddings I have also had the humble experience of observing my own parents as they have aged. In fact, mom and I talked about buckets recently and how they seem to get smaller as fewer things of this world capture the imagination. What is happening is that those things of this world are being replaced by a longing to be where my father is, in heaven, looking into the face of God as He wipes the tears away (Revelation 21:4): the ultimate bucket list for which there is great worth in living and in dying!