Today I spent an hour and a half in a dentist’s chair. He kept saying “Sorry,” but I didn’t believe it. He didn’t appear to be suffering.

During the final stages of my treatment, a somewhat comforting thought came to me: “Well, this is probably the last time I’ll have to go through a heavy-duty dental session.” Old dudes have thoughts like that. The most recent time this happened was when I collapsed into my recliner after a day of moving furniture from storage into our new home, the addition we built on our daughter’s house. “That’s our last move. What a relief!”

Suddenly I realized what a radical idea I had stumbled onto. Many of my same-generation friends are working on their bucket list – all the things they’ve always wanted to do, but still haven’t. They’re frantically trying to have all these dream experiences before they kick the bucket. Really? Every time you tick off another item on your list, it makes you happy? Because you’re one step closer to your bucket-kicking day? I’ve never understood that.

But my new concept is to consciously be aware of my empty bucket list. My bucket, like everyone else’s, has been full of negative experiences that come with living in this world, such as moving from one house to another, and sitting in a dentist’s chair. There are sure to be some other negative experiences I will have to face in my remaining days, including death itself, but it gives me comfort to think of the many things life has already thrown out of my bucket, things I’ll never have to experience again.

My mind took me back to my early years:

  • I’ll never again have to fear losing my first baby tooth, worried that if I really let my dad help pull it out, all my brains will leak out onto the floor.
  • I’ll never have to watch my pet die again (after my first tropical fish died of neglect), because I’ll never let myself become attached to another pet.
  • I’ll never have to go through adolescence again, because that’s just the way it is with hormones. (Unless you’re one of those guys who is stuck at that stage all his life.)
  • I’ll never again put myself through athletic humiliation, after going out for the elementary school basketball team when I was one of only nine boys in the highest grade, and still being cut.
  • I’ll never again have to wonder what impression my band-nerdy high school self makes on that cute girl I’m afraid to talk to.

I’m really glad that these youthful struggles are behind me. I think I can safely say that my bucket has also been emptied of some more serious scary experiences that still confront some of you who are in the generations below me:

  • Job insecurity. This seems to be even more of a challenge for people who are currently in their prime years of employment than it was when I was your age. I’ve only been turned down for a job once, when I applied to be pastor of a tiny, narrow-minded church in Tallman NY (but who remembers details?) when I was 26 and painting houses to support a young family. Harsh rejection. I’m glad job security’s no longer in my bucket.
  • Relationship breakup, especially divorce. It’s my observation that these are among the most emotion-wrenching experiences in life. I think I can safely say that Judy and I have empty buckets on that one, by the grace of God; I think our marriage is going to make it. I feel really sorry for those of you who are still carrying a load of relationship baggage.
  • The heartbreak of wayward kids. We’ve experienced that, but it’s wonderful to be at a place where that’s long in the past and you’re secure in the love of your children and grandchildren.

It just occurred to me that my bucket currently has a lot of space for me to pray for and care for some of you who are going through these struggles. If you want a listening ear, talk to me. My bucket’s just about empty right now.

Meanwhile, hang in there! The Bible assures you:

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

— Pastor George Van Alstine