When heaven feels far away – and life feels too near

Living according to a belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is a life of sacrifice –  of what I want and what I think is right – constantly, daily, momentarily, hourly, minute-by-minute.

Truth is, I hate it. I hate having to see what I want and say, no. And not JUST say no, but then submit to a different way.

And that is what a Christian life includes: the constant having to say no to self and yes to something else.

For me, it has meant moving away from people I love. It has meant missing out. It has meant living a life of singleness – singled out in society, singled out in my own faith, singled out in my own gender. It means so much. And it means so little.

Biblically, I have seen my life play out. There are numerous stories of example in the Bible I can see my life mimic. Sometimes, my life retells the same old stories. But nothing is new under the sun, right? (that’s biblical too)

Right now, I see the story of the prodigal son. Am I running away? No. Do I want to? Sometimes. But more often than not, I realize that I am the other brother – the one barely mentioned in the story. I am the brother off doing what he’s supposed to be doing – being faithful, caring for what is in front of him, caring for his family.

But he is mentioned in the story with such slight. He is given the shadow of a mention. In the story of the prodigal son, a son is so disrespectful of his parents and family, that he demands his inheritance before his father actually dies. Then he goes of and wastes it. Not only does he waste the inheritance of his living father, it puts him in a position of deep shame, ultimately living in a state that was against all of his inherited beliefs. He decides to go home and live as a slave to his own family in hopes that he would have a better return for his time – realizing that his life would be better at home in shame than away from his family in shame. He goes home. But. While he is a long way off, his father – who has been watching, waiting for him to return, hoping for what had no evidence – his father runs to him and before this son – who should be considered a disgrace – has a chance to explain, excuse, request anything at all – his father throws himself around his son and declares him found – as if he was lost. His father declares a feast in celebration of his return, instead of the mourning the son was expecting.

And this son’s brother? The brother who has been faithfully tending to the family, the business, the matters at hand? He becomes upset. And I always understood this and considered it right. And I have been frustrated EVERY TIME I have heard this taught as an unrighteous response.

WHY?

Why is the faithfulness of the son so repulsive and NOT the behavior of the son who ran away and disgraced himself yet was celebrated upon his return?

Because the faithful son’s heart was not right. He was faithful out of obligation to his culture and expectation, whereas the prodigal son (the son who left and returned) behaved in a manner of disgrace yet returned in humility (realizing he was not what he thought he was and deserved nothing) – his behavior came from a heart of repentance (realizing what he did was wrong and going away from that).

So often I resonate with the stories of those who are doing what they are supposed to be doing yet not doing what is right.

And so, once again, I find myself in the shoes of the faithful brother. Trying to be faithful to what is front of me while caring for the needs of family. And this is a burden. A worthy burden, but a burden nonetheless.

And it’s beautiful.

And it is unfair. It requires everything I do not desire and am not able to be or give.

And yet it is beautiful.

Because it is unfair. Because it requires everything I do not desire and not able to be or give.

In the minute-by-minute, hourly, daily, and constant sacrifices, I have seen my heart change. My heart has changed from obligation and obedience to joy and devotion. And because of that, it has become a joy, a devotion, and even a delight to declare the unfairness and persist; to recognize the requirement that this places on everything I am and everything I have and rejoice.

Because I believe, at the deepest parts of my heart and mind that God is right. He is right when he says, “… everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.”

The motivation is not the return itself, but the hope that God is right.

And that hope is not a wishful thinking kind of hope, but a hope in the sense of, “I know this is a truth I can stake my life on – truth I do stake my life on.”

And you know what that means for me?

It means I miss out. It means I spend everything I have. It means I live a life that looks foolish to those who evaluate it on paper.

 

So when the world collapses around me bringing the pieces of life too close and burying my view of heaven, the truth I believe has a structure of hope around me that I cannot always feel that keeps me from being crushed.

And that is good news: that this truth runs deeper and longer than my simple life and this kind of truth is unchanged by my life.

 

 

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