I never really wanted to go to heaven; just wanted to make sure I avoided going to hell, if there was one. The problem was that my personality likes diversity and change. I just couldn’t imagine any kind of heaven I would enjoy for eternity. (Eternity sounds like a very very long time.)
After a conversion from agnosticism complete with an experience of the unlimited, no conditions love expressed in Jesus, I felt pretty sure there was a heaven that would work for everyone, even me. But I still couldn’t imagine it.
Some years into my spiritual journey I had an experience of such intense and enormous joy, that from then on I was much more excited about going to heaven and not so concerned with the details.
My brother and I were traveling together and the experience was so overwhelming that we each simultaneously asked God to stop it for fear we would actually explode. I won’t go into much detail, because I think these experiences come about differently for everyone. We both experienced a moment of great clarity in which we felt, saw, heard and were a part of a crowd around Jesus singing praise in the presence of God. After sharing with one another, we decided that what we had each experienced was very similar, but also realized that there was no way to measure or compare. We both experienced as much joy as we were each able to bear at that point in our lives. So, whether it was an ocean of joy or a cup of joy simply didn’t matter.
Over the forty plus years since then, I have come to believe that the capacity for experiencing joy and the capacity for accepting suffering are linked. I don’t know if there is a cause and effect relationship or just some sort of spiritual law of balance. My instinct says that joy is the grace that gives us the freedom to accept heart break without dulling the pain through anger or depression or an addiction (even one to doing good or working constantly.) But my experience also has been that in accepting the painful darkness of sorrow, I find the peace that passes understanding. And that peace is quiet joy.
As the psalm says, “But then comes the morning, yesterdays sorrows behind.”
Life is hard, but it’s liberally sprinkled with times of joy, love, insight, courage, hope, faith, and a peace that really does totally pass understanding.
It’s kind of like a boot camp for living in heaven. The hard parts are tests, but not pass or fail or get a grade tests, but tests that stretch us, strengthen us, teach us, even giving us amazing “Ah Ha!” moments where we get a sneak peak at what comes later, what life is about.
Life is about becoming willing and able to love like Jesus did. And Jesus was God’s love for us fleshed out, expressed so we could know it first hand, up close and personal.
God’s love is a love with no illusions, but also no limits. It’s unconditional love, humbling in a way, because we don’t and can’t earn it. And it seems like God has terrible taste, because He loves everyone, even those tacky, awful people we can’t stand.
God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.
Sometimes God’s love fills our heart with joy until we feel like we may burst.
But, God’s love also opens our hearts to suffer with those we love until the stretching makes our hearts feels like they are literally going to tear in two.
The joy of love and the suffering of love are two sides of the same coin. You do not get one without the other.
“There are faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.
In fact, that’s the goal of the first two.