What’s on your bucket list?
A bucket list is a list of things to do before you die — before you “kick the bucket.” In the 2007 movie, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson play two very different people brought together through their cancer treatment. Together they set out to tick off as many items as they can from their combined bucket list.
So what’s on your list? Swim with dolphins? Visit the Niagara Falls? See the Mona Lisa? Learn to play the violin? Walk on the Great Wall of China? Shake hands with the President?
Even if you don’t have an official list of items or events that you want to do, many of us have expectations for what we will be able to accomplish before we die: own our own house, or fall in love, or trade the job we have for the passion we love. These are all kept in a sort of list that lives in our minds behind everything else that we do. Are you consciously or subconsciously working through your own list?
Bucket List Tyranny
There is a certain tyranny that goes with the bucket list. As soon as something joins the list, then the pressure is on to find a way to tick it off. Or people say things like, “You really must raft down the Grand Canyon.”
“Must I? Perhaps I should. Perhaps I’m missing out. What kind of life am I living when I haven’t even rafted down the Grand Canyon? My life is so empty.”
But the gospel liberates us from the tyranny of the bucket list.
I was once watching a documentary on the natural history of inland China. And the scenery was breathtaking. One particular view caught my imagination: a dramatic, deep gorge with lush vegetation clinging to the cliff-sides. So naturally I thought how great it would be to visit it. I wanted to see it for myself.
But then I began to work out what might be involved. I’d need to save up a lot of money. It wouldn’t really work if I joined a tour — I didn’t want to hop up in a minibus, take a photo, and then leave. So I’d need to plan how to get there myself. And what about the language? Would I need a visa? It was quickly starting to sound like a big project.
And then it occurred to me that I could wait to see it in the new creation. I didn’t have the time or resources to make the trip in this life. But I could make it in the next life. There’ll be plenty of time in eternity.
It’s a liberating thought. I don’t have to experience everything in this life because I have a next life, eternal life. If I commit myself to serving God in my locality now, making sacrifices along the way, I won’t miss out. No one who has served Christ faithfully in this life will arrive in the new creation with regrets.
The Liberation of All Creation
Paul says one day “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). God is not going to bin this world and replace it with another. He’s not going to let Satan have the final word on this planet. Still less are we going to flit around on clouds. In Revelation 21:1–2, heaven comes to earth and all things are made new.
I don’t know whether Niagara Falls will be there in the new creation. I think they might, but I don’t know. I don’t know whether my Chinese gorge will be there. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to swim with dolphins, see the Mona Lisa, play the violin, or walk the Great Wall of China. But I’m confident I’ll not be disappointed.
When Jesus, who is Wisdom personified, describes the creation of the world he says,
I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man. (Proverbs 8:30–31)
And this will be our experience at the re-creation of the world. We’ll be filled with delight day after day. And we haven’t even started to speak of the centerpiece of the new creation: the glory of God in Christ.
So don’t be intimidated by anyone’s bucket list. Let go of the things that are distracting you from serving Christ.
A Simple List, an Easy Yoke
In fact, here’s my suggestion. Why not create a hole-in-the-bucket list? A list of things that can fall out of the bucket list. Identify the things you feel the pressure to do, but which actually you don’t have to do.
Always wished you could see the pyramids? Put it on your hole-in-the-bucket list. Now you don’t need to save up or plan a complicated journey. See how liberating it is! Always had a sense that you should learn a musical instrument? Let it go. Feel inadequate because you’re still renting instead of owning? Throw it on your hole-in-the-bucket list. And then get on with life. There’s much more now that God has called us to elsewhere.
Here are some of the things on my list.
- Visit China.
- Learn to speak French.
- Read War and Peace.
- Watch “The West Wing.”
- Go skiing.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. If skiing is your hobby, then good for you. Ditto if you’re a West Wing fan. Or a Tolstoy fan. Leisure, culture, learning, travel are all generous gifts from our heavenly Father. And spending time relaxing is an important way in which we recognize that we’re finite people who need to rest, as well as justified people who don’t need to prove ourselves.
The point is I don’t need to have every great experience now. I don’t need to be distracted from serving Christ. I don’t need to worry that I’m missing out. I’m not missing out. No one who has Christ misses out.
Freedom from a list of our own expectations is real freedom. We need to make sure we have time for the bucket list that really matters. The gospel gives us this. And, graciously, the list of our gospel duties is not a thousand lines long. It is mercifully short, with only two items. But these two simple things are the things we really need to give our time to before we die: 1. Love God. 2. Love others.