Are you familiar with the term “bucket list?” It’s a list of all the things you hope to do with your life before you leave this world (“kick the bucket”). About eight years ago I began thinking about retiring from service as a full-time United Methodist pastor. I found that I would be financially able to retire in a few more years. So I started my bucket list. It was a pretty long list.
When I did officially retire in 2006, I expected to get started on accomplishing some of the items on my bucket list. However, I was asked to serve as a part time pastor at a small nearby church and also take on a church related part-time job that required a good amount of traveling. The time required for these two part-time jobs amounted to about the same time needed in my former full-time job. I said yes to these requests, since I saw them as God’s call to continuing service. Also, to be honest, I could use the financial compensation to better secure my future financially when I eventually became fully retired. The problem was that I still wouldn’t have time to get into my “bucket list”, which had by now gotten even longer. Two years later I gave up the church-related traveling job and two years after that I became fully retired.
Finally, I was totally free to get into the bucket list. I reviewed the whole thing, and realized that it was so long that I would never completely accomplish everything on it. Especially since the life expectancy table I looked at told me I only had about 15 years left in this world. I was kind of disappointed that my hopes for my future would never be completely fulfilled. This was not good news. So what was I to do? I realized I had to do what I had done in the past – seek God’s direction as to what He wanted to do with me (or what He wanted me to do) about this still growing and now impossible bucket list.
God’s response was to tell me that I needed to prioritize the items on the bucket list. God also reminded me that this was not really a new idea for me. Most of my life, especially in my secular and church related employment, it was always necessary for me to develop prioritized to-do lists. The difference was that usually there were a relatively few items on those lists. And they were things that had to be done (if I wanted to keep my job), and could realistically be done, within the space of a day, a week, or a few months at most. As long as I followed the prioirities. But my bucket list contained a huge number of items. How could I even begin to start prioritizing all of this?
I didn’t have to worry. God was still with Me. God pointed out that without realizing it, I had already begun prioritizing the list. There were a few items which for almost ten years had been on my mind before I even thought about writing a bucket list. At the very top of the list was the formation of a web based ministry, which would be called Ray of Hope Ministries. I asked my good friend Patty Perez to be my partner in ministry. She said yes. So on June 1, 2011 we began our ministry with the blog you are now reading – Today’s Enlightenment.
This was and still is the top priority on my bucket list. But there were a few others that were top priorities – writing my spiritual memoirs and then possiblysome other books, developing my own and my wife Joan’s family geneologies, with maybe a book or two related to that, and a project for the archives of the Navy Musicans Association, of which I am a member. These projects would require that, just as when I was a paid employee, I would now have a daily work schedule. So far, so good. But there were still many more all items on the bucket list. How could I possibly prioritize all of them? Again, God was with me. With His guidance I proceeded to do the following:
1. Totally crossed off all items on the list which no longer interested me, and their elimination would not in any way affect other people. This also meant being ruthless in deleting incoming e-mail and web sites which might be interesting to look into, but would not be essential, and would just waste my time.
2. Identified items which should remain on the list, but at the moment would not require a schedule or timeline as to starting or completion deadlines. These were items which I could fit into each day in my “spare time”, meaning the time I would not be devoting to the major projects previously mentioned, or to the essential routines of daily living. For the most part it didn’t really matter which of these I worked on at any particular day or time. The way it’s been working out over the last two years has been that I review the list once a week and select at least one item that interests me to work on in the near future, as time permits. Sometimes, as I go through the list, I find that more items can be totally eliminated. Occasionally something gets added to the list. That still leaves quite a list of things I will never get to, but that no longer bothers me. Whatever I don’t get to, I don’t worry about. I have found that if something is important enough for me to give it a high priority, God will somehow let me know,and will somehow provide the time I need. As of now, this is working out reasonable well.
3. I continued to provide time for something that was not on the bucket list. It wasn’t on the list because I had started to do this about 40 years before. I set aside at least an hour of devotional time every day to intentionally get away from work in order to be alone and in touch with God. Some people might say that they are always aware of God’s presence, so they don’t have to set time apart for this. I have found that while it is true that I can always and anywhere experience God’s presence, it is also necessary to have some extended time intentionally devoted to fully hearing and understanding God’s hopes for myself. And to discern how God wants to use me to do my part in fulfilling those hopes. This helps me proceed with the work God has already given me, to prepare for new work, and keeps me from becoming burned out with this work. This as an intentional ongoing daily process which consists of being with God (devotional time) and then doing with God (work time). I call this living the balanced life.
I don’t want this balanced life idea to sound like I am coming up with some great new revelation that God has given me. This need for the balanced life is not something new. As I read the Gospels I notice that this is how Jesus conducted Himself during the three years of His public ministry. Before He embarked on His ministry (work) of preaching, teaching, and healing, He spent time in the wilderness with God. Frequently He spent time alone with God in quiet places, away from everyone and everything, before returning to His work. Jesus demonstrated how to live a truly balance life.
The problem we have, especially in the USA, is that our culture promotes being busy, even in retirement. In various ways we are taught that being constantly busy all the time is a great virtue. And so many of us live accordingly. I often hear from or about people who are so heavily involved in being busy, with work, sports, entertainment, even church and other volunteer activities, and anything else they can think of, that they convince themselves that they don’t have time (not even an hour or two) to get away from it all in order to be with God. Even on vacation many people get so worn out from keeping up with a schedule of traveling, sightseeing , and games, that the vacation in effect becomes a kind of work. Then they need a week or two to recover. But they don’t have time for that, because they have to get right to work again. All of this leads to burnout.
This “always busy” approach to life also makes it difficult for us to adapt to retirement. I know of people who have said that they can’t wait for retirement so they can be free of the daily grind. Then they retire from work, but they still don’t take time to be with th God to discover what God wants to do with them in their retirement. They jump right into finding ways to “keep busy”. They soon find themselves going back to a daily grind of their own making. They become just as burned out as they might have been before they retired.That’s Because they have not taken the time to discover God’s hopes for them, and to pursue those hopes with God’s support. That’s the bad news. But in the midst of bad news there is always good news. The good news is that it’s never to late to take the time to get with God, ask for His direction, wait for His answers, say “yes” to Him, use the grace He gives you to pursue what He wants to do with you, and then watch as He, using you, goes about fulfilling the hopes he has for you.
Oh, here’s some more good news I forgot to mention. Remember the life expectancy table I referred to? It’s been six years since I saw that table that life expectancy table that said I had only 15 years left t live in this world (I would then be about 82 Years old). Recently I saw another life expectancy table. It said that I had about 20 years left, which means you might still be hearing from me when I’m about 92 years old. So maybe I will complete my bucket list. On the other hand, maybe not. But either way, I intend to keep on seeking God’s direction and acting on it, knowing that sooner or later I’ll be in a place where I won’t need a bucket list, because in that place, there is no time – just eternity. I hope you will do the same.
Grace and peace, Ray
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.
May God be with you,
Patty and Ray