When most people write out their bucket list, they think of exciting things that they want to experience, or say they experienced, before they die. Skydiving is always a popular inclusion, so is international travel. Plenty of people want to visit the Great Wall or see the Great Pyramid of Giza before they finally leave this life. Many people also include physical feats that they hope to accomplish before their deaths. Running a marathon, completing a triathlon, climbing a real mountain and hiking either the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail are also common bucket list items. Some of the other most popular bucket list goals include learning a new language and writing a book.
Bucket lists are designed to help people get the most out of life before it is over. They are, in some ways, the ultimate to-do list with the most inflexible deadline. No one knows when they will die, so bucket lists give people a constant reminder to enjoy life while it lasts. Is this the same goal a Christian’s bucket list should have? In many ways, a Christian’s bucket list should include similar things to a non-Christian’s bucket list. Seeing the Northern Lights or going shark cage diving are perfectly acceptable items for a Christian’s bucket list. There should also be, however, things that are focused on more than simple excitement. Here are six things that every Christian should do before they die.
Be a stranger in a strange land.
College admissions boards are inundated every year with essays about how a high schooler’s trip abroad taught them about the importance of diversity. Such stories have become so common that some universities advise students against using it. That does not mean, however, that it is an experience that should be avoided. On the contrary, people could benefit from spending even more time in cultures that are very different from their own.
Christians are called to empathize with others and to practice hospitality for those who are strangers. As such, it is good for Christians to know what it really means to be a stranger in a strange land. This does not mean spending a few days playing tourist in a country with a similar culture to one’s own. While this has its own value, a person needs to stay in a foreign culture for a decent portion of time to really understand what it is to be a stranger. For the best effect, that culture should truly be foreign as well. European and American culture is reasonably similar. Western and Eastern cultures, on the other hand, have far more differences. The bigger the cultural gap on experiences is, the greater the sense of being a stranger and the better the lesson.
Right an old wrong.
For some reason, embarrassing and problematic moments in life seem to be preserved in vivid color even after pleasant memories of a similar age acquire a sort of haze. Most people loathe this phenomenon. After all, almost everyone would prefer to have the best memories of their childhood remain clear and easy to revisit while letting the terrible recollection of the time they peed their pants in school fade into the background. Unfortunately, that is not how the brain works. That does not mean that a Christian cannot take advantage of the mind’s irksome tendency to remember past problems.
An important item on a Christian’s bucket list is righting an old wrong. The wrong does not have to be something huge, but it should be something about which the Christian still feels guilt. It could be as simple as a Christian admitting to their coworker that they were the one who ate the last of the other person’s sandwich. The wrong could be small or large, and it could have taken place years or mere days ago. The point is for the Christian to correct it before it is too late.
Do something kind. Tell no one it was you.
Too often people do kind things because they want to be able to tell others that they were a good person or receive the gratitude of the person they helped. This, however, is not in the Christian spirit of kindness or charity at all. Acts of kindness should be done for altruistic reasons, not as a way to show off. The former is pure Christian charity. The latter is the sort of self-righteousness and false piety that Christ so often scolded the Pharisees for possessing.
It is easy to do something kind when people are watching. It is not always easy to do a good deed in secret and then keep that good deed secret. It can be a pleasant feeling, however, to walk around with such a happy secret and should be something that all Christians experience before their time comes to an end.
Be proud to show off your faith.
Some people will always be more comfortable evangelizing than others. Some people can talk about Jesus all day long with deep seated pride and love. Other, equally devout Christians get twitchy at the idea of discussing something as deeply personal as their relationship with God with a complete stranger. A good bucket list goal for Christians, however, is to get to the point where they can and do wear their faith proudly. They can aim to reach the point where they are able to have conversations about religion with acquaintances if not complete strangers.
Someone who feels comfortable sharing their faith should be doing so out of sincere belief and comfort, not bravado. Anyone can learn to put on a brave face. What Christians should aim for is reaching a depth of faith that they are comfortable putting their religion out there for others to see.
Have a civil religious debate without self-righteousness.
Many Christians can cheerfully talk about God and Christ. Not as many, however, can have an honest religious debate with someone of another faith. Too many Christians enter such a discussion with the mindset of converting their conversation partner. While conversions are important, they should not be the only thing on a Christian’s mind when talking with someone of another faith. Christians should strive to reach the point where they can have a discussion about religion with someone of another faith, or even another Christian denomination, without devolving into a speech or long list of why the other person is wrong.
The ability to have a conversation with a person of another faith aimed at achieving understanding will also require Christians to put more faith in their own religion. Many Christians seem to harbor a deep seated, illogical fear that truly learning about other faiths will turn them into apostates. In reality, learning about other religions is a good way to strengthen one’s own.
Understand the history that shaped Christianity.
As much as some people would like to pretend that Christianity developed in a vacuum, it did not. It was, like anything else, shaped by cultural and historical forces. Jesus only left behind so many explicit instructions. The rest had to be figured out by ordinary men and women. Those men and women, however holy or close to Christ as they may have been, were still human. They were fallible mortals who were influenced by their time and culture. As such, there are common beliefs that many Christians accept as fact that actually are found nowhere in Jesus’ teachings and classic traditions that are more the product of ancient politics than theology. Learning about where God’s instructions end and mankind’s traditions begin is a valuable exercise for any Christian. It will not only give Christians a glimpse of how their religion developed, but it can also give unique insights into what some of Jesus’ less understood teachings mean. There are a number of words in the Bible, after all, that mean something very different in modern languages than they did in ancient Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic.
In many ways a Christian’s bucket list is going to look very similar to a non-Christian’s list. There will be physical feats that a Christian hopes to accomplish and incredible places they want to visit while they still have the chance. A Christian should aim to do more than simply enjoy the world before they leave it. A Christian should try to improve both the world and themselves before they are finished here on Earth. Then and only then is their job truly finished.