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Kick the Bucket List

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2014 7 Aug

I admit I don’t always think like others which creates problems. I’m a fun person – but – I’m not always fun. So, how can I be – well – not fun today?

I don’t like the whole bucket list thing; I mean I really don’t like it. And it’s not because Niagara Falls was a disappointment, being in Red Square made me homesick, or Trinidad was not what I imagined. It’s not because I’ve already been thrown from a horse; interviewed the President; was a nationally ranked college athlete; jumped motorcycles; hung out with Richard Petty after the Southern 500 and sat in his race car; sailed in the Atlantic; was knocked down by Jack Nicklaus; opened my own business; wrote a book; sat in class for a semester with a former Miss Universe and paid her no mind because I was writing daily letters to someone more beautiful and to whom I’ve now been happily married for almost thirty years; nor is it because I’ve done a thousand other cool things I haven’t time to mention here. I mean, who needs a bucket list with a life like that?

(I should also add I’ve rolled my car twice; spent more time in the hospital than most; held the hands of people as they died; rushed to be with friends in the middle of the night in the midst of their tragedies; struggled to feed my family while looking for work; been betrayed by friends; come to be hated by more people and experienced that hatred at a level I never dreamed possible simply for what I believe; and suffered through countless indignities I won’t bore you with here. Life is a mixed bag).    

Now, it’s true we shouldn’t separate the secular from the sacred and God has given us a million things to enjoy for His glory like screaming across a lake on a Sea-Doo with your eight-year-old son. At the same time, we really are aliens in a foreign land and our citizenship is in Heaven and that’s why taking the gospel to the most miserable places I’d otherwise never visit is so glorious. These two realities are in tension but not at odds. So, if they’re not at odds, what’s my beef with the bucket list?

For one thing, when some people talk about their bucket list it sounds like they think this life is better than the next. Of course, if you’re an unbeliever that’s true. Yet I hear Christians talking this way. Quite often believers wistfully lament never having an opportunity to vacation in an igloo village. But, if you died today you would miss out on nothing better than what God has for you in eternity. That doesn’t mean we should wish to die but it does mean we shouldn’t be so attached to things or experiences.

Think about this too: the bucket list is really rooted in a one-world view. The bucket list doesn’t merely presuppose this life is better than the next, but that this life is all there is. Obviously Christians wouldn’t say such a thing. But, that’s the worldview they can buy into if they’re not careful: a kind of attitude that says YOLO – so Polo; let’s do all we can here because after that, it’s over. But God has in store for us a world redeemed and restored – an ultimate Divine Design. There’s no comparison. I wouldn’t mind bungee jumping from Royal Gorge Bridge, riding a motorcycle down Australia’s Great Ocean Road, or eating at the world’s finest restaurant – but if I never get to do those things or a million others, who cares? I have eternity.

Practically speaking, whether we temporarily have a one-world view or not, the bucket list can lead to dissatisfaction with God’s providence in our lives. Somehow we get the notion we deserve better; we deserve breakfast at Tiffany’s. If we’re focused on what we want out of this life, and if some of what we want is unattainable, we can become discontent. Such a state shouldn’t be taken lightly as God is the one who orders our lives. If we’re discontent, we’re really dissatisfied with Him.   

I guess the main thing that bugs me about the bucket list is that ultimately it says there is greater satisfaction in things than there is in Christ; there’s greater joy in the gifts than in the Giver. But the truth is there’s nothing in this life or even in the next that’s greater than Christ Himself. So the bucket list can truly be a great dishonor to God.

One can certainly have a bucket list with no problem. I recognize I’m not wired with a visceral desire to skydive over Mt. Everest, I have a good life, and I’m really satisfied with Christ. All of that undoubtedly affects my thought process. But I don’t want to let you off the hook if you need to be on the hook. How we think is who we are; it’s how we relate to God; it determines what we do; it’s worship. There’s nothing more important than your thinking (Prov. 23:7).

So you decide. You might have a list of things you desperately want to do before you kick the bucket; that list may be okay – or, it may not. As for me and my house, we’ll just kick the bucket list – and see how God’s plan unfolds. Yes, it’s a mixed bag but God’s been gracious through it all. And, frankly, for the most part, it’s been fun too.

Check out Dr. Dean’s new e-book “Naked and Unashamed: Liberating Sex from Cultural Captivity”. You can also follow him on Twitter: @pauldeanjr.