Oh, we are so very attached to this life and this world. And really, that’s not terrible. After all, God created this world, created us in it, and gave it to us to take care of and enjoy. (And the fact that we don’t take care of it as well as we ought would be fodder for a whole string of blog posts…worthwhile, but not today’s topic.)
No, it’s not terrible that we love our lives and the world we live them in. But the season of Advent, perhaps more than all others, asks us to take a look at the depth and strength of that attachment and compare it to our attachment to God and His Kingdom.
We can get so wrapped up in what we are doing here that we lose sight of the fact that this is just a temporary phase and that our true destination is eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom.
That all seems abstract and ephemeral to us. I think this is so partly because it really is so different from our experience here, and partly because we don’t seem to have a very good frame of reference for that next phase — the one we call eternity.
But wait! We do have a frame of reference for it! In fact, we have wonderful and specific descriptions of it. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus frequently refers, in parables and directly, to what the kingdom of God is like. And the Book of Revelation is filled with descriptions of John’s visions of heaven. Scripture is one of God”s greatest gifts, and spending 10 or 15 minutes a day reading and pondering some portion of scripture is an incredibly rewarding way to begin to understand its richness. Make it a small portion — the Bible is not meant for speed-reading. Begin reading at some point — perhaps locate a favorite passage — and read until something jumps out and stops you. Then sit and re-read that one bit, and reflect on it, and ask your Father for understanding. Talk to Him about what the passage is saying to you and ask Him to guide you in exploring it. And then….just listen.
I promise that you will gain more from doing this than you can imagine — But I digress.
If this world and this life and the things they are made of are temporary, and our life with our Father God in heaven is eternal, it makes sense to view our attachment to this world and this life as a time of preparation for the next world, the next life. And when we do, it completely changes the nature of our attachment.
I had such a graphic and intense experience understood that there were no treatment options other than palliative/hospice care — that his life was, without question, going to end — there was a sense of being cast adrift on a very wide sea. Everything we’d held to be important up to that point was still there, still visible, still tangible — but somehow meaningless. Our very human tendency to still cling to those things — to live each day as we always had, to do the things we always did, to plan and dream as we’d always done — was drawing us into a spiral of frustration. It seemed like everything we did, every conversation, every plan, every action led us to the same conclusion: It isn’t going to matter. In 3 months or 6 months or 8 months, but in any event in less than a year, barring a miracle, he would be dead. Yes, that’s the word: dead. No euphemisms, no sugarcoating. His time in this world was going to end.
The only conversation we ever had about the next life, while he was still able to converse, went something like this:
Tom: Where do you think I’ll go?
Me: What do you mean?
Tom: Well, heaven or … you know …
Me: Oh, definitely heaven, maybe a stop in purgatory but you know, you’re one of the good guys.
Tom: I wonder what purgatory is like.
That conversation got me thinking, and the thinking got me praying. I really wanted Tom to go to heaven, so I began simply asking God to take him there. In Tom’s last hours, I prayed out loud with him, commending his soul to God and asking the angels to carry him to heaven. I’ve written elsewhere about that experience. Today, I just want to dwell for a bit on what it taught me about attachment to life and things this side of heaven.
Because we’re human and thus imperfect and sinful, we tend to become all too invested in what our human nature is accustomed to. We cling to material possessions, we agonize over failed human relationships, we cling to the very time we are given in this world as though those things were all that had meaning.
Don’t get me wrong — they do have meaning. God made them to be meaningful so that we could make the best of our time before eternity. But because we are human, we are all too likely to magnify their importance to such a size that they can blot out what God really made us for.
When I think about eternity — about the life we were truly created for, the life that Jesus came to earth and died to save us for — as it is partially revealed for us by the Gospels and by the Book of Revelation, when I sit and try to visualize it and think about actually being there, fulfilling my ultimate purpose by constantly praising God with all the angels and saints, it creates an amazing sense of both anticipation and peace. The God who loved me into being wants me, after all, to spend eternity with Him. To the God who brought the entire universe into being with His Word, my individual soul is more important than all the vastness of the oceans and the mountains and the sky and the earth.
Believing that — and I can and do, because it is the very heart of the promises Jesus made while He was here teaching — changes everything for me. I can love this life and all the blessings in it, and I can live it to the fullest — because that is what God wants of me, provided it all happens in the context of His desire to have me with Him for eternity.
This is not pie-in-the-sky; this is not some abstract idea to be grasped only by the greatest of thinkers and philosophers.
This is personal. This is between God and me. This is about the promise my Father has made, through His Son, that He watches for the tiniest sparrow, lest it fall — and that I am worth more to Him than many sparrows. When I think of life in these terms, my heart is filled with anticipation. What I have here is wonderful! I’m meant to enjoy it. I’m meant to use it as God intended — a stepping stone to the fullness of life with Him. And I’m meant for something much more meaningful.
For most of my life, I feared death; it seemed terribly unfair that the one thing I dreaded most was also the one thing that I could not possibly avoid. To understand this focus on eternal life — the ability, so to speak, to look beyond the window rather than at it — both required and enabled me to release my fear of death. The dread of death, mine or that of others, is tied to my attachment to this world. When I focus on the life that Jesus has promised, the dread disappears and is replaced by anticipation. It will come, when and as God wills. It will be the end of me as this world knows me, and it will be the beginning of me as the fulfillment of God’s will for me.
That’s what Advent is about: the anticipation of something, Someone, greater than we ever imagined, and yet coming in the form of a tiny child — embraceable and loveable, so small and so eternal.
Father, Creator and Lord of all I know to be real, teach me to see beyond the bonds and attachments of this life to the greater reality of Your kingdom. Teach me to trust in the redemptive act of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and the sanctifying power of Your Holy Spirit. Help me to grow in the knowledge that I have nothing to fear, that I can trust in Your grace and rely on your mercy and compassion to keep me focused not on the temporary things of this world but on the eternal glory that awaits.
Leave a Reply