Our dog Bailey is a wiggly, happy, furry ball of snuggles. We call her our ‘therapy dog’ because she somehow knows which person in the house needs her most at any given moment. If one of the kids is upset, she’ll wedge herself in next to them so they can bury their face in her fur or stroke her ears. On my difficult days with chemo, she has been my constant companion, like she somehow knows I need a little extra comfort and company.
Recently, Bailey went to the groomer. On the way back, the closer we got to home, the more excited she became. When we pulled onto our street, I rolled the window down and she stuck half her body out, wiggling and wagging as she rapidly inhaled sniffs of the air that meant home. As soon as I opened the van door, she leapt down and bolted for the house, rushing in to greet *her* kids with lots of squeals and licks and joy all around.
I’ve been meditating recently on Philippians 3:20, which says, ‘But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.’ So the thought struck me as I watched my pup race up the driveway...am I eagerly waiting for my true home? Like Bailey, am I sniffing the air, trembling with excitement at the thought that every day brings me one step closer to that door?
To be honest—most of the time, my answer is no, I’m not. There are so many things and people in THIS life that I love and enjoy, that to dream of an unknown place seems... unnecessary. When life is good and easy and full, I confess that I am easily satisfied with the here and now. Because of this, I’ve always had some mixed feelings about heaven. There have been times where it felt like heaven was just a pat response slapped onto a difficult scenario. You lost a loved one? “Well, at least you will see them again someday.” You’re hurting? “Well, at least in heaven there will be no more pain.”
In almost every blog or book or article I’ve read recently on suffering, heaven (or the new creation or whatever you want to call it) is the writer’s ultimate answer to the end of suffering. And I understand why, intellectually. It’s the final chapter of this Great Story—the most glorious climax that could ever be composed. But somehow, even tho my mind understands that eternity with God is good and right, my thoughts of heaven are still mingled with feelings of grief. If going there means leaving here, that still makes me immensely sad. Anytime we lose a loved one, even if we believe we will see them again someday, we’re still sad. And thinking about my own death also makes me feel sad for those I’d be leaving behind. So I have been struggling with feeling like, since I can’t separate the grief out, I must not be appropriately yearning for heaven— because who yearns for something that makes them feel sad?
One thing I am so thankful for in my friend Djay is how he constantly reminds me that most things in life are not as polarizing as I’ve trained myself to think they are. Instead, our beliefs and emotions are often an amalgamation of multiple points on a diverse spectrum. Like I wrote about recently (in the post entitled ‘Swallowed Up’), we can experience joy and grief at the same time—so why not both trepidation and anticipation concerning heaven?
It’s my choosing to trust, my allegiance to the Good News, even when I don’t fully understand it, that glorifies God. My cousin Katie, who has recently experienced a great loss, summed this up beautifully in an email to me: ‘Even on those hard days, I rejoice in the Good News of Gospel. It is because of this Good News that I can face this and grieve with HOPE! That is where I am choosing to set my feelings - I don't do this perfectly as other feelings do compete.’
Despite my complicated feelings about heaven, there have been moments the last few months that I have found myself longing for it in a new way....even eagerly waiting for it. It’s not necessarily that I am wishing to go there. It’s that, in moments of desperation, when life feels especially hard and painful, eternity comes into clearer focus. Suffering refines our perspective concerning this world and our momentary afflictions. It makes us think about the legacy we are leaving and the prize we are pursuing.
My sister in law, Steph, had some wise words on this topic, particularly concerning 2 Cor. 4:17: ‘For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!’ She said to me, “Think about that! What you’re going through. What we’re going through. What Christians who are persecuted and all the suffering they have experienced throughout all of history....It’s all just ‘momentary, light affliction.’ There are days I feel like this is more than I can bear. But it’s only momentary. The glory we’ll experience will far outweigh the pain. I can’t even imagine the glory if it’s greater than this pain....it’s like suffering gives us a mirror image of the reverse of what glory will look like. If life was easy, the greatest thing I could imagine heaven to be would be infinite pizza and no bellyache.”
Isn’t that an incredible thought? However intense our suffering might be right now, the eternal glory it’s producing will be even greater! So even tho infinite pizza does sound pretty amazing, what He has in store will surpass even our wildest imaginations. And what reassures me is that even though I don’t fully understand all of this, and even though sadness and uncertainty hover over my hope, I know God is glorified because I am choosing to trust Him.
My dear friend, Becky, says, “Sometimes I think all of life is just training us how to hope for heaven.” May our difficulties and suffering today train us to eagerly wait for our true home....where Christ is King, where every thing and every body is made new, and where every hope is realized in full.
A beautiful, modern-day hymn that illustrates all of this, if you want to listen, is ‘Christ is mine forevermore’, by Cityalight.... https://youtu.be/n32ACTdNASo
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