April / May - 2020 Vol. 109

                  seaed in glory

by Amy Hughes

This is a story about heaven and how I am learning to hope for it in a more specific and personal way. It started as an anti-anxiety exercise for me several months ago. With the overactive imagination that I have, I could picture a dozen ways of losing my loved ones or dying, and each worst-case scenario stopped me cold with fear. Even though they were unlikely, they gripped my heart all the same. While most of us fear losing loved ones, I can trace these heightened fears back to the difficult birth of my fourth child and a period of postpartum anxiety afterwards. For months after he was born I couldn’t help but picture horrible things happening to him. I felt compelled to check on him constantly to make sure he was ok. I yelled at my other children if they came anywhere close to stepping on him, or accidentally hurting him. Even as I left the postpartum phase and the intensity of that anxiety behind, I found myself more easily drawn into specific worries. Would my kids’ school be safe from active shooters? Would my husband return safely from his business trip? Would sickness strike my family and friends?

My imagination felt like my enemy, always assuming the worst, robbing me of sleep and peace. But a part of me wondered if I could use this same imagination to visualize something I knew to be true, even if I didn’t know what it would look like. I believe in the resurrection and the life to come. And I believe that Jesus loves me and my loved ones more than I can understand. As Jacques Phillipe says in his book Searching for and Maintaining Peace: “One thing is certain: God loves our dear ones infinitely more than we do, and infinitely better. He wants us to believe in this love, and also to know how to entrust those who are dear to us into his hands.” And while I know this in theory, it occurred to me that it matters what scenes play out behind my eyelids. The more I visualize something in my mind, the more powerful I allow that idea to become. I needed my hope to be more specific than my fears, because I knew, ultimately, the specific would win the fight for my attention, each detail a foothold for my focus.
I needed my hope to be more specific than my fears, because I knew, ultimately, the specific would win the fight for my attention.
Maybe for me, one antidote to my very specific anxieties about death and loss would be to use my spiritual imagination to picture how much Jesus loves those who love him. To picture what he is preparing for us when we shake off the shadows of this life and step into eternity. How could my fears not melt in light of such love?

So I began to write, imagining the details of heaven. I spent part of my prayer times asking the Lord to renew my mind and remind me of his love. I thought back to times in my life when I felt his presence most strongly and tried to remember what struck me in those moments. When and how have I felt  most connected to Jesus and specifically loved by him? I also thought about some of my big questions: what would it be like to reunite with my husband if there’s no marriage in heaven? What age are we in our resurrected bodies? How can we possibly celebrate and worship for all eternity? And I always came back to scripture, trying to let my meditation be fueled by the Bible.

Is there danger in such an exercise? Maybe if I take myself too seriously and claim things I’ve imagined as fact, or stray from contemplating the gaze of Jesus, or the truth of his word. There is the danger of looking foolish, for I will most certainly be wrong on every detail. Scripture says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9) So I know it is impossible to imagine, with my human mind, the glory of what God has prepared. But doesn’t it also say: “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things”? (Philippians 4:8) And when we think about those things, over and over again, meditating on them, they have a way of capturing our hearts and minds. And contemplating spiritual mysteries can help us grow in faith, as we learn how to be “sure of what we hope for, and confident of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

C.S. Lewis argues in The Weight of Glory that the more insidious danger would be not to imagine too much, but too little.  He says “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” So these are the scribbles of a child in a slum trying to imagine that holiday at the sea. I will laughably use the wrong colors and shapes, having never seen the ocean, using only what I know to imagine what I do not yet know. But this I am learning: it is changing my heart to long for heaven in a specific way, and dream about it not as some far-off country, but as if I have an upcoming trip with a real ticket and a packed suitcase. The more I dream about the details of it, the larger it looms in my life, and it washes everything with that diffused light of real hope. The hope is real, and that is what matters. I find myself daydreaming about seeing Jesus face to face even as I wash dishes or fold laundry. What will it be like to have no more sin or pain or sadness? What will it feel like to walk the streets of that city where God dwells with his people forever?

In light of our current climate of fear and panic as the Coronavirus pandemic unfolds, I find myself in need of this hope more than ever. Coming back to these meditations about heaven has been a powerful way to recenter and remember where my hope is anchored, and what my marching orders are. Fear does not free me to love well, and as a Christian, my marching orders are to love well, in all situations. In a very real way, my spiritual imagination is a powerful weapon against anxiety and despair. In one of his other books, Interior Freedom, Jacques Phillipe writes: “The essence of Christian spiritual combat is, with the strength of faith, to maintain a hopeful outlook on every situation, on ourselves, on other people, on the church, and the world. Such an outlook enables us to react to every situation by loving”. Fighting to keep my attention on the good promises of God, in little concrete ways, is actually a practical way I can equip myself to react to any and all frightening situations in love.
Fear does not free me to love well, and as a Christian, my marching orders are to love well, in all situations. In a very real way, my spiritual imagination is a powerful weapon against anxiety and despair.
I want my kids to see a Mom who “has no fear for her household, and can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:21,25). Their little hearts perceive the difference between panic and peace, even under the surface. I want them to see a mom whose heart is captured by the idea of spending eternity with Jesus. A mom who can’t help but talk about it all the time, so that it grows so large in their minds it drowns out the panicked pulse of the world around them. I want to be part of a church whose imagination is so captured by the life to come that they act noticeably different than those without such a hope.

A former pastor at our church used to talk about heaven in such a way that encouraged us to dream. He would say “Heaven will be like the best thing you can imagine… and if not that, then something better”. If not that, then something better… His challenge encourages me to imagine, because it reminds me there is little danger of disappointment. There is almost everything to gain, and nothing to lose in such an exercise. There is every chance that by focusing on the life to come that I will be freed to live this life more peacefully and charitably. There is no chance I will ruin the surprise, overestimate God’s goodness or get there one day and think “It’s nothing like I imagined” in a disappointed way. Rather, I expect in faith to think, in the words of St.Thérèse of Lisieux:  “Oh my God, you have surpassed all my expectations.”
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”(Revelation 21:1-5)

**I recognize that clinical anxiety is a medical condition requiring medical assessment. I am not seeking to downplay mental health issues, or to suggest positive thinking as a cure-all. I only aim to look at the spiritual element involved in my own experience as one way to approach a complex issue.

This article (c) by Amy Hughes was first published in The Lois Project

Amy started The Lois Project as a way to combine her love of writing with her desire to strengthen connections between Christian moms. Amy and her husband John live with their 4 children in Michigan, and are part of the Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor.

The Lois Project is a group of Christian women from various cities, countries, and church backgrounds who feel a common call to be disciples on mission in all seasons of life. Most of us find ourselves in a season of care-giving as mothers, grandmothers, mentors, or teachers.

Many of our writers are part of an international, ecumenical Christian community called The Sword of the Spirit. Although we come from Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant traditions we seek to foster unity among these groups and work together.

Instagram: @theloisproject

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