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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What's in your bucket?

What's in your bucket?

I wrote this over 20 years ago. I've published it online two or three times since then. An article very similar to it has been making the rounds on the internet. Maybe we went to church with the same old lady, or the same original article showed up in other writer's bulletin. But I wanted to share again anyway:

When I was a young mother of two children in diapers an older lady at church shared the bucket parable with me. The basic idea is that as you go through life, you are carrying a full bucket. And sometimes in your day to day life, you get bumped or jostled and this causes you to spill out some of the contents of your bucket, sometimes small spills, sometimes large. Sometimes you’ll just get a little splatter on yourself- drops so small and so quickly dried that nobody notices. Sometimes you splatter the contents of your bucket all over yourself and anybody else nearby.

What is it that spills out of your bucket?

It’s what you are carrying in your bucket in the first place. Doesn’t that seem obvious? But we don’t think that way. We tend to blame the circumstances or people that ‘jostled’ us and made our buckets unsteady, unstable- but nobody else fills my bucket for me- I alone am responsible for the contents. Nobody else fills your bucket, either- you are the only person who decides the content of your bucket. Circumstances or people may trip you up a bit and make you drop the bucket (although even there, I think if we have a strong enough grip on the Father’s Hand as we walk through life, it won’t be that easy to trip us up) – but you can’t spill something that isn’t in your bucket in the first place. If you filled your bucket with water, you won’t find vinegar sloshing out when you stumble over a rough path.

In the same way, we go through life getting our buckets jostled about by other people and we say, “He makes me so mad,” and “I would be a patient mother if you children would just….” and “I never would have been so rude if she hadn’t….”

But other people don’t fill our buckets. They just bump us around and jostle us, as we do them. We can only spill out what we already have inside our buckets. If all you have in your bucket is the milk of human kindness, vitriol is not what you should see splashing out when you’re crossing over a bumpy place.

If we fill our buckets with the milk of human kindness, we won’t find that the vinegar of spite or the hot sauce of rage is what sloshes out of that bucket when we go over the rough spots of life. If we fill our buckets from the source or Living Water, we shouldn’t be finding that they splash speech that tears down instead of building up on others when we stumble through a rough patch.

It’s easy to only show the best bucket contents to people we like and to people who pretty much give us our own way. They don’t bump us about and we don’t spill our buckets on them. We think that smooth sailing is somehow due to some virtue in our own character, when, in fact, we just aren’t being challenged.

Contrariwise, it’s easy to perceive the people we don’t like through a lens designed to show them in their worst light, and then blame them for the nastiness that spills out of our buckets when we are around them. But those who rub us the wrong way are the very people who can do the most to teach us how to turn the sour lemon juice into sweet, refreshing lemonade. If we look at it the right way, they show us just where the weak spots in our buckets need patching up. Being irritated by somebody may just be the best opportunity to practice careful and judicious bucket mending and carrying, and to examine what it is we’ve put in our buckets in the first place- because, again, nobody can ‘make’ you spill something out of your bucket that wasn’t there in the first place.

Your mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:45

The things that come out of the mouth come out of the heart. Matthew 15:18

What did you spill the last time your bucket got bumped around? Is that really what you want to keep carrying in your bucket?

Guard it at its source. Proverbs 4:23

There are an awful lot of holes in my bucket and I am not fully satisfied with what splashes out of it on every occasion. How about you?


  1. I am in need of bucket mending and, really, a replacement. By God's grace.

    Thank you for this post.

  2. God bless you Kathleen. Thanks for reading and commenting.