Like so many others the world over, our family has been experiencing a time of significant testing since my husband was furloughed from his job in mid-March. The ramifications of sudden job loss have been numerous, and I'd be lying if I said we weren't stressed. In an attempt to get our minds off the strain of our current situation, we planned a small getaway with my mom, compliments of her. We were so looking forward to a time of rest and relaxation, and a chance to just get away from it all.
I love vacations. Like anyone else, I love to see and experience new and exciting things, and greatly benefit from a change of scenery--especially when out in nature. So last week we packed up and headed for a nearby lake resort. I was especially keen on hitting the pool and just chilling out (well, as much as one can with a three-year-old in tow!)
Once there, however, instead of soaking in the beauty, I found myself sharply aware of the artificial contrivance of my environment. It may sound ridiculous, but as we were nowhere near a tropical climate, the potted palms placed carefully around the deck of the pool seemed phony to me. I began to meditate upon the fact that this was the developers' attempt to create an ideal environment and how impossible this is to achieve in a fallen world where nothing wrought by the hand of man can rival the beauty or perfection of God's original (or ultimate) design for His creation.
Now don't get me wrong; we did enjoy some very special moments together during our time away. We did some really fun things, and beheld some breathtaking vistas. It was good to have a change of pace. It was good to get away. But you can't ever really escape reality.
My poor mother had been dealing with a tremendously difficult situation of her own over the months leading up to our trip, and leaving town did not prevent her from receiving constant phone calls about it. Her older brother--my uncle--has a rapidly deteriorating form of dementia which escalated dramatically while we were gone. Each phone call was more heartbreaking and shocking than the last. These traumatic phone calls occurred throughout our trip, and further shattered the illusion of a perfect place to get away to.
In addition, a seemingly ceaseless stream of news articles detailing the tragic state of our nation bombarded our phones at all times of the day and night. The change of venue could not possibly shelter us from the real difficulty of our current predicaments.
So there was fun, but there was also disappointment. Just facing our reality--the shared reality that this life and this world will never fully satisfy our longings for peace, beauty, order or perfection. However, the Holy Spirit took the opportunity to build upon something He'd been teaching me (and I had been slowly learning) over the past year or so. Which is, not only is the world and its desires passing away, as 1 John 2:17 tells us, but also that the world to come--our eternal abode--is infinitely more to be desired!
One of the things I most admire about my pastor is his unbridled enthusiasm for eternity. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, however, that I have at times attributed this to his advancing age. As if only the elderly really look forward to heaven! The truth is that this zeal for his eternal home is fueled by a realistic assessment of this world and a Biblical understanding of the next. Over and over he will tell us, "Our future is grand!" At first I thought, "Well, he has to say that; he's a pastor!" But over time, this slogan has begun to sink in and take root in my heart.
Speaking of this present world, Romans 8:22 explains "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." From this verse, we see that both believers and the creation itself are straining towards the day when all will be renewed and made perfect once again. We struggle against the limitations and disappointments of life on a planet "subjected to futility" and "bondage to decay" (Romans 8:20-21), and yearn for the day when Christ will gloriously transform both us and it.
With reference to eternity, we hear "the best is yet to come" and are told that the most sublime experiences we've had on this earth will simply pale in comparison with the life to come. Of course, I know what the Bible has to say about the future that awaits those of us who have been promised eternal life as a result of simply believing in Jesus for it (John 3:16; John 11:25-26; John 5:24). With my head, I acknowledge that it will be far more magnificent and wonderful than anything we could possibly conceive of (1 Corinthians 2:9). And yet if I'm honest, in my heart, I don’t know if I can say that I have been eagerly awaiting the day when my "faith shall be sight." In truth, until the past couple of years, I think that several misperceptions about heaven had held my imagination captive.
I imagined heaven might be boring, or repetitive, or just a neverending choir practice. You know, the stereotypical image of strumming on a harp while sitting on a cloud. But over the past year or so, those misperceptions have been replaced by a greater understanding of what my eternal home will really be like, and I'm beginning to get excited! Recently, I've been reading Bob Wilkin's excellent book, "The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible," and his chapter on Heaven has definitely recaptured my imagination:
"To suggest that we will be floating on some cloud singing praise hymns forever is a near-complete misreading of where God has called us to live and what He has called for us to do. The greatest paintings have not yet been painted. They will be painted on the new earth. Architecture, transportation, technology, the arts, sports, science, recreation, literature, worship--all of that pales in comparison to what will be on the new earth and in the new universe...The entire new universe will be a canvas on which we can glorify our Lord...The way we think about heaven is wrong and we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Our eternity is more glorious than we can imagine” (Wilkin, 2012, p. 83).
So far from the monotony I had imagined, the future for believers will be the most exciting, dynamic existence imaginable! Not only so, but we will finally be free from the presence of sin, and real harmony will replace the broken, strife-filled relationships that we contend with on this earth. What a comforting thing to consider as our country becomes more divided by the moment!
On the last day of our trip, my husband received word from his company that his furlough would be extended by an additional three months. Although we knew that the chances of him being called back to work any time soon were slim, we were honestly stunned. For the first time since this all began back in March, I felt genuinely afraid. I know my husband felt it, too. Our sense of security was shaken and I realized that our hope had been misplaced. Again, the Holy Spirit nudged me to consider how this blow (though harsh) might be viewed from a different, eternal perspective.
As things continue to deteriorate and trials increase, my expectation of finding fulfillment and stability in this life is lessening. That's a good thing. In actuality, the disappointment I'm feeling is a gift. It reminds me that my real hope and expectation should be firmly fixed on my eternal home, where peace and perfection shall reign and where all things shall be made new (Revelation 21:5). Until then, I pray that the Lord would continue to grow in me a greater sense of anticipation for that day!
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ"Philippians 3:20