For those who can’t come up with their own list of things to do, try, or see before they die, there are quite a few helpful websites offering bucket list ideas including 329 Bucket List Ideas, 101 Things To Do Before You Die, and for you overachievers, 10,000+ Bucket List Ideas for Designing Your Best Life.  

I have decidedly mixed feelings about bucket lists. I’ve always been envious of those who can create and set fascinating personal goals for themselves. I know people at midlife who’ve run their first marathons, taken up watercolor or photography, or launched a business born of long-cherished passion. My own life’s experience has not always left room for the naming and claiming of these kinds of dreams.

The last couple of decades of my life leading up to and through midlife have been a series of crisis responses as I’ve faced a series of big losses including both parents, a relationship with another cherished relative, the empty nest, my husband’s unemployment, and a splintered church family. While some motivational speakers like to note that the Chinese characters forming the word “crisis” come from the words “danger” and “opportunity”, that kind of thinking is foreign to me when I’m in the middle of a tornado – or picking through the scattering and chaos that follows one.

I recognize some of the ways God has been at work in the crisis-whirlwinds that have moved through my life, re-shaping and maturing me. These detours from the life I would have scripted for myself are opportunities, I suppose, though I wouldn’t automatically categorize them as such. I am a different (and I hope, better) human being than I would have been if my own Wonderful Plan For My Life had come to pass.

I’ve also dealt with chronic illness and a couple of tough injuries during the last decade. That pyramid diagram you probably met in a Psychology 101 class called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds me that it is almost impossible to think about higher-level needs for accomplishment and self-improvement when a person is focused on survival issues. I recognize that bucket lists are a luxury afforded to people living in places where their basic needs have been met. A man living in a refugee camp in the Middle East or a woman imprisoned in North Korea are probably not dreaming about how to fulfill their bucket list items.  

Despite those really good reasons for resisting the idea of a bucket list, not long ago, I realized I was also carrying an unspoken fear of failure when it came to setting new goals for myself. The big dreams I once nurtured didn’t come to pass. Midlife for me has been a time of right-sizing those hopes. But it occurs to me that perhaps I’ve ridden that swinging pendulum a bit too far in the other direction and given up dreaming altogether as a result.

Maybe I need to start small at this point in my life. In light of my losses and limitations, my bucket list now includes bite-sized items like:

  • Grow more attentive to God’s beauty around me.
  • Grow more attentive to ways I can show God’s kindness to those around me.
  • Read more fiction. Reconnect with my own imagination.
  • Now that we’ve moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida, go see one sunset a week. (Related to my desire to attend to beauty – but also connected to a desire for simple celebration.)
  • Find a spiritual director to walk with me through this latest time of transition in my life.
  • Seek new, creative ways to bless and stay connected to my family.

I’m about to turn 60 years old. The “bucket” part of a bucket list looms a little larger than it did ten or twenty years ago. Though my measuring cup-sized list will never land on one of those bucket list websites, it feels hopeful to name a few small goals. As I do, I orient myself toward taking some steps toward building some new practices into my life to achieve those goals in much the same way I might during Advent or Lent. Most of the items on my list don’t cost anything except my time and attention, but they can grow my soul, helping me to (1) love God and (2) love neighbor a little better. And that two-item bucket list is what life is all about, isn’t it?

Question for you, Perennials: Does the idea of a bucket list inspire you or irritate you? Why do you say so?

Cover photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash