Do you really need a bucket list?

Fly fish in New Zealand. Kayak in the San Juan Islands. Eat lunch in Istanbul. I have a list of things that I want to do — one day.

The Jack Nicholson – Morgan Freeman movie, The Bucket List was about two men with terminal cancer nearing the end of their days. They escaped their hospital rooms so they could finally pursue things they had delayed their whole lives.

Their list had things they wanted to die before they “kicked the bucket.” The term made its way into our vernacular and even today I hear people about “Putting the things on my bucket list.”

The problem with bucket lists is that the deadline is death – and that’s an uncertainty. Do you really know how long you have?

Bucket List
Photo by Pete Prodoehl via Creative Commons

The big question

I come from a long line of Norwegians on one side and Jewish Poles on the other. Both sides are hardy with low blood pressure, clean living and good teeth (says my dentist.) Most of  my relatives lived well into their 90’s. But that’s no guarantee. I could pass away in dozens of different dramatic deaths (I’ll tell you about a few of my close calls sometime) or through a variety of maladies.

But this human flesh is vulnerable and ultimately weak. I had a friend cut some carpet and the knife  broke the skin on his leg and he ended up dying of a flesh-eating bacteria that was in the carpet. I had another friend simply not wake up one morning – no explanation.

On the other hand, I had a close friend who’s mother came close to death at least a half dozen times, only to fight back for another six months of good living. You never know.

At my Small Group the other night a number of people shared maladies — Cancer, mystery seizures, debilitating back injuries, and a dying father. The discussion wasn’t dire, it was hopeful and almost joyous as we shared our burdens with each other. One of the group who has had weeks of cancer treatment talked about healing beyond the body, how the disease has actually healed his soul and his mind.

It’s a diagnosis, not a destination

Rick Dawson, another friend of mine thought he had beat cancer. Years of testing showed he was clear and clean. But then it knocked on the door again, this time to stay. The “C” word is devastating to most any of us, but to someone who’s beat the dragon back for so long, to hear that it’s returned can be crushing. The fight is brutal and once it’s faded away, one would think it’s forgotten about you.

But then he wrote this: “Cancer is a diagnosis, not a destination.”  Those are words I’ll never forget.

Thus, the problem with Bucket Lists. We think that to really experience things, we have to grasp everything this planet has to offer. So we eat to excess, slip into sensuality, travel without satisfaction, and buy with no regard. We act as if this is everything.  We mark them off, one by one. But in the end, all we have is an empty list – and an empty heart.

One young woman I know tossed all of her morals and sensibilities to the wind upon learning of her terminal diagnosis. She drank and smoked and slept and threw herself to pleasure. And still, she died. Was she happy?

C.S. Lewis in the Weight Of Glory put it best. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I spoke with our Small Group leader last night whose father is slipping away into death, perhaps now just hours away. And we talked about how selfish it is to want him to stick around. God wants him. He wants to go. And yet, we are the ones who want recovery, who want him to stay alive. You don’t wish death on anyone, but when it’s time, there’s a time when you have to let it go.  We might just be keeping him from the last item on his list — an audience with the Creator.

To  every person facing bad news—I want you to stick around. I want to spend just one more day, have one more conversation, make one more memory.

Through your life, show me how to really live. Show me how to walk toward the light. No shadows. No pain. No fear. No deceit. No shame. No curse. No grief. No sadness.

And, no need for a bucket list.

Show me the way, friend.

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