Filling Buckets

People with Buckets

Although I don’t have any kids in school yet, my friends with school-aged kids have been talking about this concept of “bucket filling” that is popular right now in elementary schools. A person’s “bucket” represents their mental and emotional self. To fill another person’s bucket is to show them kindness or encouragement, whereas to “dip” into someone’s bucket is to say or do something unkind. Kids are encouraged to be bucket fillers and not bucket dippers. 

I love it! How much sweeter would our relationships be if we all lived as bucket fillers? Sadly, it’s not always that simple. 

Never Full

In my previous post, I wrote about how sin destroys peace with others because it is fixated on self, and its primary concern is always “What about ME?” Relationships built on a foundation of selfishness will not experience the type of peace and intimacy God created us to enjoy.

Before we knew Christ, we lived as takers because our buckets actually were empty. We could only approach relationships from a posture of deficit; we had no other choice (see Ephesians 2:3). This is why I think the “bucket” exercise, while a lovely and helpful teaching tool for kids, is incomplete apart from Christ. 


However! Praise God that the gospel gives us hope for a beautiful alternative.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
— Ephesians 5 : 1-2 (NIV 1985)

Because of the gospel, we don’t have to live as perpetual takers with empty buckets. Our new identity “as dearly loved children” allows us to choose a different way—the way of sacrificial love. Living as a dearly loved child of God means that my bucket is always full! Not because other people have filled it for me, but because God has poured out His lavish, generous, reckless love into my heart.

I love how the Bible uses that word “lavish” in passages like Ephesians 1:8 and 1 John 3:1. “Lavish” means excessive. Wasteful, even. In terms of the bucket metaphor, I picture a waterfall with a bucket underneath, filled a thousand times over, water running everywhere. 

1 John 3 : 1a
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

The Tension

This is my position in Christ—my bucket is full! I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). But it doesn’t always feel like this is true. Because of the brokenness in the world and the brokenness in me (my sin nature), I still struggle with anxieties and insecurities. I still often approach the people in my life from a posture of deficit, looking to take something from them to meet my own needs.

This is the tension between the flesh and the Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians 5:17. When I let my flesh win the battle, I can believe and act as though my bucket is still empty. 

But the good news is that I now have a choice, and I don’t have to choose this mode of operating as a way of life. Instead, I can choose to live by the Spirit, laying aside my old self and putting on the new self. 

A Community of Bucket-Fillers

The fruit of living by the Spirit is all the things that make healthy relationships: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). This is a picture of a community of people who live a lifestyle of filling each other’s buckets. This is the only way we really can live as bucket-fillers on any kind of regular basis.

And this is the beautiful thing about Christian community: we do not merely fill each other’s buckets from our own supply, but we can point each other back to the source. When I see a sister with an empty bucket, I can lead her back to the waterfall.

Erin D.