One of my favorite films, especially having reached “senior years,” is “The Bucket List,” about two aging men (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) with one thing in common. They’re both coping with terminal cancer. After striking up an unlikely friendship, they develop a mutual “bucket list” – things to accomplish before they “kick the bucket.” The film watches them check items off the list.
|What's in your 'bucket'?|
I’ve never compiled an actual bucket list, but have had the pleasure of accomplishing lots of things I would have put on it, had I bothered to compile one. There are the obvious choices, like finding a loving wife, along having great kids and grandkids; a rewarding career that I have considered successful; and finding meaning and purpose in life, which have largely come through my faith.
Then there are more discretionary items I have checked off my imaginary bucket list, like seeing the Grand Canyon (twice); visiting Disney World (multiple times); traveling outside the USA (again, a number of times); meeting some famous people (including Archie Griffin, Woody Hayes, Jack Nicklaus, Jesse Owens – are you seeing a Scarlet and Gray trend here?); and helping people along their spiritual journey.
But two things I’ve never wanted to include on a bucket list are running in a marathon and competing in a triathlon, basically a marathon plus water and a bicycle. I’m more anchor than swimmer, so triathlons were scratched off the list before they could be added. And frankly, I’d never be willing to commit to the time and effort required to do either.
You don’t just bounce out of bed one morning and declare, “I’m running a marathon (or doing a triathlon) today!” They take months of preparation, mentally as well as physically. It takes incredible determination and discipline, training whether you feel like it or not, being willing to forgo eating the wrong foods, and maintaining a mindset that you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
Then again, from a spiritual perspective my life for the past 40-plus years has amounted to a real-life, every day marathon. It’s been said so often it’s become a cliché, but it’s true: The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. At times you might find yourself going a bit faster and the course seems smooth; at other times the path gets extremely rough and you’re coming almost to a halt, maybe even taking steps backward. But with God’s strength and relying on His grace, you keep moving.
The apostle Paul liked metaphors of athletic sacrifice and the long-distance run. Writing to believers in the church at the Greek city of Philippi, he said, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
Just as marathon runners midway through a race don’t dwell on what they were doing at the three-mile mark, in our spiritual lives we also must be willing to forget our failings, the “woulda’s, coulda’s and shoulda’s” of our lives, and concentrate on where we are presently in our walk with the Lord and where we believe He wants us to go.
Among the most heartening scenes during any marathon or triathlon is the crowd lined up throughout the route, some folks cheering on friends and family members, others providing refreshment as competitors continue along the way. It must be tremendously encouraging for runners to know they’re not alone.
The Bible says the same about our spiritual journey: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
I’m not certain exactly who this “cloud of witnesses” consists of, whether it means fellow believers we encounter from day to day or perhaps, those who have already gone passed from this life. In any event, isn’t it great to know we have “cheerleaders” exhorting us? “Keep it up!” “Don’t give up!” “You can do this!” “The Lord is with you!”
One day each of us will reach the end of our personal marathon. In a final letter to Timothy, his young protégé, Paul also wrote, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and he time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). The apostle, nearing the end of his earthly life and ministry, felt confident of finishing well. Having endured great opposition, adversity and near-death experiences, he could at last see the race’s end.
How did Paul succeed in doing this? I think we find the answer in another book; we don’t know its author for sure, but it must have reflected his motivation: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).