Do you remember the kid’s song about the hole in the bucket?  Henry tells Liza about the problem of the hole in the bucket and she attempts to solve the problem all through the song.  First she tells Henry to fix the hole.  He asks her how.  Liza then says to get some straw.  Henry says the straw is too long.  Liza says, “Cut it, Dear.”  Henry says, “With what?”  Liza suggests an ax, but Henry says the ax is too dull.  Liza offers that Henry should sharpen the ax with a stone.  Henry says the stone is too dry and Liza says to wet the stone.  Henry asks how to wet the stone and when Liza suggests water, Henry returns with the fact that, “There’s a hole in the bucket.”

Whew!  Here’s a little slice of life.  When I look at this song I can’t help getting a little anxious feeling that my prayer life can often look like this.  I present my problem to Jesus and He kindly gives me an idea or an inspiration about how to get to the next step.  I consider the suggestion but pose another problem.  He gives me another solution.  I hear that solution and I pose yet another problem.  Of course as the song suggests, by the time we go through all the potential solutions, things have gone full circle, we’re back at the beginning and we haven’t stepped off the dime.  We still have a hole in the bucket.

Most of us have some form of a hole in the bucket and we never fix it.  Every time we want to fix it we let some other problem intervene and we go off in the new direction, looking for the straw, finding the ax or the right stone, but all the time never fixing the hole in the bucket.  We have safely skirted the issue.  We have managed to not succeed because we kept the problem moving faster than any solution could catch it.  In fact, the truth is we might enjoy the problem more than the solution because what happens when we fix the hole?  We might then be called upon to use the bucket.  We might have to put that bucket to use in ways we aren’t sure we’re ready for and so it’s a lot easier to be able to say something like, “I’d like to help, or give, or carry that burden for you, or I’d like to offer a solution, but you see, I can’t because, well…there’s a hole in the bucket.”

Why are we carrying useless tools around with us if they have no value?  When is it time to put down the old bucket that we thought was worthwhile and simply buy a new one that will allow us to get the job done?  Perhaps, we get attached to our old problems so much we don’t want to see them solved.  If they are solved, we’ll have to look at other problems and find solutions to other issues. It’s an ongoing dilemma, but one worth considering if you’re stuck in any situation in your own life.  If you’re stuck and every solution finds a convenient excuse, then maybe you need to look at why you’re so attached to the hole in the bucket.  There is a solution, but you have to want to solve the problem.

Sometimes, I feel pretty sure that I proudly carry around the bucket with a hole in it, wishing and praying that it would hold water, but the fact is, it can’t.  I haven’t done anything to fix the problem so that my bucket could even become half full.  Well, Dear Liza, I think I’m going to go get some duct tape and move on.  It’s really time to tap the well of Living Water and see what’s next.

  1. Mary says:

    Hey Karen, that’s pretty cool. I stumbled on this post because I was looking for good explanations of “hole in the bucket” behavior, and I really like what you’ve written. I recently read an insightful article in which the author pointed out that human beings wouldn’t get stuck in harmful behavior patterns if there weren’t some gratification in it, and looking at the various points in the “hole” cycle, I can see where the gratification kicks in: the (self-)righteous feeling of blaming others (“it’s because of THEM that I can’t fix this hole”), justified laziness, comfort of not changing, non-fixes that are really just entertaining distractions. Similar to what you’ve written, I think the key to breaking a pointless/harmful cycle is in seeing where the gratification is — what keeps you wanting to do it — and then accepting that the gratification is masking something harmful.

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