A few weeks ago, the pastor at my church returned from a trip to the Midwest. Iowa, I think. Anyway, he opened his sermon with an invitation. He wanted everyone to move with him to Iowa.
It was, he said, the land of milk and honey.
He proceeded to announce plans, already in effect, to relocate our church to the Midwest city he visited and then urged everyone to get on-board. Citing gasps throughout the congregation would be an understatement. Yet, he promised everyone that life would be better there. Just pack your things, and by faith, head to the Midwest. Iowa, I think.
Crazy, huh? Well, we're not moving.
Truthfully, none of this happened. Not one bit. Just something to draw you in. But what if your pastor, a close friend or loved one approached you with the idea of moving somewhere you'd never visited or had any idea of what life was like there, promising that this was indeed, the promised land.
Isn't that what heaven is kind of, sort of, like? Have you ever been there? I have not. Nor has my pastor or anyone I've ever known. I don't know what heaven or the afterlife is going to encompass. In many ways, I find heaven quite alien. Late at night when I can't sleep, if I focus on the idea of heaven, eternal life and trying to understand He who cannot be understood, I get pretty freaked out.
Jesus says, “Follow me.” OK, I'm on-board - I don't have enough faith to be an atheist or follow any other religion. But here's the reality for me on earth. In this life. Moving to heaven is as foreign as moving to Russia. Or Iowa. Despite what the Bible says or the fictional story about my pastor encouraging the congregation to move to a Midwest town, I've never been there. When life is good, I like it here. In my house. In the town I live in. With my wife and the friends I have. If heaven was described as the here and now without the burden of time or death, sign me up.
Have I completely lost you?
OK, when was the last time you prayed for someone with a life threatening illness not to get better? Think about it. If your faith is rooted in Christianity and so is the person whom you're praying for healing, why would you, in a sense, ask for a delay in that person's arrival in paradise? If this same friend was headed to Hawaii would you purposely find roadblocks to prevent them from their visit? Of course not. You'd wish them well, yes?
This is what I ponder at 2 in the morning.
So, instead of praying for the recovery of ill-members of the faith why not wish them Godspeed? With a smile. If 80 years is but a vapor trail what's 20? Or 40? Or 60. If you were diagnosed with a life threatening disease but curable with a round of this and that treatment, you'd take it wouldn't you? And simply block the inevitable. As the pastor of my church really said some time ago, life doesn't end well for any of us. We'll all be carried away in a box, one way or another.
Can you imagine what Lazarus said? What the hell did you do that for?! I was home!!!
About eight years ago I was abruptly laid off. Three days earlier I learned my father was diagnosed with NHL. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In a few days, the Volkswagen dealer would completely screw up the radiator system putting my cat at risk of acute kidney failure. A few days after that I'd have a birthday. Happy Birthday. It wasn't a great week, to say the least.
But I survived. The screw-up with my car got resolved. My cat was not affected. And my dad lives today. He's in his mid-70s and when that NHL bug started returning last year I prayed for his full recovery.
Just like I prayed for my cat Chloe, Twitch the cat subjected to a garage floor of yummy tasting anti-freeze who eventually succumbed to cancer, my grandma and my wife's aunt and grandma. But, all of them are now gone. In paradise. I prayed for a stay and in the end I asked for their expedient departure.
I live my life for the most part to prevent disease and decay. I exercise. A few years ago I began high intensity interval training. I eat right, for the most part. And take a selection of supplements all designed to prolong health and life.
Sometimes I wonder why. Superficially, it makes sense. I've seen people die of cancer. I don't want to. I've seen people ride the slow whirlpool of death. I don't want to. I've been inside nursing homes. I definitely don't want that. Wouldn't it be nice if we just, one day, fell asleep unbeknownst that was the day? Then we'd be trying to delay that, wouldn't we?
Man, I can't wait to get to heaven. Said no one ever. Well, at least I've never heard it. Not even from my pastor. Sure, we all want to go to heaven but we sure do everything we can to prevent getting there, don't we?
Billy Graham once said he wasn't afraid of death but he was afraid of the dying process. That hit home for me. I suppose dying is like vomiting. The whole five minute lead-up is the worst part! Once emesis starts, it's a relief. Graham also said God puts within us the instinct to survive. He stirs the higher passions, it's a thrill to be alive. Shouldn't it be a thrill to be dead?
Isn't it impressive when God answers prayers for healing? Keeping us here a bit longer. To say a wildly answered prayer doesn't embolden my faith would be fallacious. It most certainly does and in many respects I wonder if that hoped for answered prayer is as much about me witnessing God as it is about seeing a loved one survive and allowing me to cling to their company a bit longer.
I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be heard. Listened to. Including me. Imagine, someday praying for a moratorium towards a better life and attesting later you felt the full attention and collaboration of the Creator.
But if life is better in Iowa, why don't I want to move there?
I suppose that means I have unfinished business here.
Where I live now.