Creating a bucket list must be a peculiarly American endeavor. To make a list of things that you want to achieve before you “kick the bucket” is only possible for people who have the opportunity and resources to chase such dreams. Throughout history, few have been offered the luxury of a bucket list. Often mere survival was the only thing eligible to be listed.
For some such a bucket list of plans for the future are crushed by the need to take care of loved ones. For others, life just keeps taking away opportunities. Quite often I counsel a person who has denied herself her bucket list in order to serve a family member or spouse who has special needs, who is long-term disabled, or who is terminal. While such caring people would do it all over again, they sometimes feel as if life has made it impossible to fulfill their own hopes, dreams, and lists. While they have no regrets due to their love for others, life can sometimes seem unfair.
Bucket lists are goals. Making the list is a partial commitment to complete the list before life has passed. An uncompleted bucket list becomes a list of regrets. To not fulfill one’s goals usually feels like failure. The entrepreneur who plans to become a millionaire by age 30 may live the rest of his life in despair if he not only does not reach it by his goal date, but he never reaches it. Even if one changes one’s priorities in the light of the vicissitudes of life, like caring for a spouse who is rendered quadriplegic due to a drunk driver, there is still the listless sense that a dream has died. Such caring people may never allow themselves to grieve the loss of their dreams, because that would seem selfish in light of what their loved ones have to deal with every day. The loss is real, however!
There are two ways to build a bucket list that does not become your master. The first is to change the goals into dreams. Goals are plans, and it has been said that a goal without a deadline is a dream. To not achieve goals is to fail. To live one’s dreams is fulfilling, but it is not failure if dreams are sacrificed in the name of unplanned crises. There is no failure in not doing what one desires to do in order to do what one must do. A list of goals can be a setup for a life that is viewed as failure.
The second way to build a bucket list that serves you rather than the other way around is to establish one with realistic goals. God teaches us the beauty of a simple life. No one lived a life of greater simplicity than God’s own son. In the words of the Apostle Paul: But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you (1 Thess 4:10-11). Solomon had incredible power and wealth and he achieved everything on his bucket list, and after all was accomplished he wrote: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this are the whole [duty] of man (Eccl 12:13). Solomon became cynical (“all is vanity”) because he had fulfilled his bucket list.
Jesus summed up life by teaching: 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matt 22:37-40).