We are told to be alone right now, and I keep thinking about heaven.
We are hunkered down at home. Some of us have finally gotten around to, and even finished, those projects we never thought we’d start. Others of us have given an embarrassing amount of time to Words With Friends; I somehow land in both categories.
We can’t go anywhere, and it’s not normal. Well, I suppose it’s our “new normal.”
The loss still feels strange. All the coffee dates that never happened, and the concerts and weddings that were cancelled. Everything we used to do and not think twice about is gone for now. Every plan we dragged our feet about making was postponed before it even made it on the calendar.
Perhaps for the first time in our Westernized lives, we are experiencing what it means to have our wants, comforts, and everyday routines removed from us. We’ve never really treaded these waters before. In our culture that prizes comfort, where even our poorest live in luxury compared to others in the world and throughout history, having anything taken from us is hard.
But it’s not just our favorite coffee houses or local shops that have been taken. Our entire sense of normalcy has been uprooted. And as we get honest with ourselves in these quiet moments, we’re realizing how people – friends, family, coworkers, strangers at the grocery store – play a vital role in our daily rhythm.
We are a people who are learning to look ahead to the right things now, and the more I think on this, the closer it brings me to heaven.
Of all the losses, not being at church has been the hardest.
We can’t gather in the sanctuary to worship God. No one is crowding in living rooms with Bibles open. There’s not a host welcoming you in for dinner right now. This isn’t time to pull a friend into a hug as you pray grace over her, or look into someone’s eyes to ask, and wait for the response, “How are you doing?”
In its place is a schedule of Zoom calls and livestreams, a never-ending stream of Marco Polos and text messages.
At first it was exciting. Oh, let’s gather in our neighbor’s home to watch the church service. We’ll cook breakfast, and it’ll be fun.
Then we said, Let’s watch the church service in our living room, snuggled with the cats with a cup of coffee in hand, fresh cinnamon rolls in front of me. We can get through this. This isn’t so bad.
Weeks in and the coffee seems to get cold a little faster. And the cinnamon rolls? Not as fresh.
This seeps into every aspect of community. I usually share an office space with some of the God-loving women I most admire, but for 5 weeks now, my “office space” has been a blue plastic tote next to my dining room table and my “work attire” has been chinos and house shoes.
The coffee just gets colder when we’re alone.
Even the most introverted, home-bodied of us all need to be near others.
As I’ve settled into self-isolation, there is an aching growing at the center of me. It’s this humble confession: I long to be in community again.
I’m restless to raise my hands in worship with the congregation, and to be with my brothers and sisters again. I want to hear a whole body of believers lifting their voices in adoration to the Lord, and to feel the friend beside me scripting notes as the pastor leads us through a passage.
There has to be something, someone, some group you miss too? Not one of us has walked this season without giving up something.
We were not meant to be alone. I am understanding that now – in these wild days of global pandemic – more than ever. As I look ahead to the day when I can be in community again, away from this exile on the Persinger’s carpeted island with the olive wreath on the door, it’s all I can do to think how tightly I’m going to hug some people.
I have a feeling that when we go back to church, when everything gets back to normal, we will love the people when we walk through the doors more honestly and openly than we ever have before.
Can you imagine how amazing those greetings are going to be?
Friends, we are getting ready for a glimpse of heaven.
I know we feel alone and disconnected right now. Even the most introverted of us; I know because I’m one of them. We long for hugs and to lock eyes with another person. My soul feels it – that need to pull another person in close, to hear the voice of a brother singing, to see a sister’s face light up and hands raised in worship.
At the end of these days await once-in-a-lifetime reunions. And these will be glimpses of heaven we’ve not ever seen before. I really believe this.
Because at the end of this isolation are restored greetings with brothers and sisters, people we have missed. And not just any reunion; it’s going to be a reunion of tears. Tight hugs. Laughter and wide smiles. Waiting for us around this corner is a renewed love for the gifts we have, starting with the congregation of God.
I don’t have answers for most things in this life, including the whys and hows of this pandemic we are living in. But if there is one thing I am certain of in this life it’s that God doesn’t waste. He’s going to use this, and is already, to tell us something.
I’m not the first person to think this. I’ve heard other believers, both friends and leaders alike, voice this too. But, what if just one way that God is speaking to us right now is by giving us a unique opportunity to savor this moment of looking forward to being with brothers and sisters again?
What if He’s allowing us to truly miss and appreciate the gift of friendship and camaraderie that we take for granted every week? What if we are being beckoned into a deeper love for the community He has given us?
So this is how, as I sit in the quiet of my home, busying myself with tasks and spending extra time FaceTiming, I can’t help but feel drawn toward heaven.
We are looking ahead to the most rich, genuine earthly reunions we’ve ever been a part of. Our arms will be stretched wider than ever before, and our joy will run in tears down our faces as we finally feel together again. Sometimes when I imagine that first Sunday back at church, in some future day, that hope is enough for the moment; it’s only a snapshot compared to the glorious reunions we’ll experience in heaven, and yet, it’s enough.
They say we’re living in unprecedented times, but I think the remarkable thing about it all is that when these days of heaviness are lifted, the joy and gratefulness to follow will be unlike anything we’ve experienced here before.
So when this is over, when we’re a little wiser and patient and quicker to show our love to others, just remember that this is our glimpse into the heavenlies.
We’re eager to greet one another at the end of this season. There’s another day we’re eager for: it’s the day when our mourning and sojourning on earth will finally be brought to an end, and we’ll make it the glory of heaven we were created for. We’ll see our beloved brothers and sisters in restored bodies, and meet our Savior face to face. There will no tears or fear, but we will only know how to love and live in community without any disease or fear; there will be no comparison to that joy.
But hang on, because pretty soon, we’ll return to the sanctuary on earth and we’ll get to peer into the heavenlies disguised as long-missed earthly gatherings.
Let’s sit in the presence of this season, yes, but let’s also look ahead. Let’s not miss the opportunity to catch a glimpse of glory, even here.