This summer as I prepared for the birth of my third child, an otherwise typical Facebook scroll led me to an article on reducing childbirth-related deaths in the advanced world of American medicine. Having experienced postpartum complications in the past, I was surprised to learn excessive bleeding and hemorrhage, issues my hospital had handled quickly and easily when I experienced them, are in reality leading causes of maternal death. I spent the better part of a week in tears, unable to lift the weight of anxiety and fear of death, of leaving my husband and family.
My grief, I know, stems from a realization I’ve recently come to; one I wish didn't have such a hold on me. Here it is: as a Christian, I'm embarrassed to say I often don't feel ready for heaven. Not in the sense of being unprepared, though I almost certainly am--aren't we all, except by grace--but in the sense that my fully human, earthly mind can't fathom something that will fill my soul more than being married to my husband and raising our family.
I find myself secretly hoping Christ’s Second Coming won't happen during my lifetime. I tear up immediately when I think of being separated from my husband. I frequently wrestle with the idea that, theologically, there's no marriage in heaven.
I am immeasurably blessed by my husband, a man who shows me Christ's love in such a tangible way. By extension, I wonder if, by loving him so much, my love for the Father somehow fades into second place. I am in awe of my husband, thankful to him, passionate about him, and I trust him completely, in a way that goes far deeper than just feelings. Shouldn't I see God in this way, and to an even deeper extent?
I know, of course, that my husband isn't--nor should he be--an idol or ultimate source of my happiness. Yet the thought of our being apart, even if it means one of us is rejoicing before our maker at the heavenly feast, is hard to contend with.
Have you experienced this, the fear that heaven couldn’t possibly be as joyful as living out your vocation on earth--one you’ve probably dreamed of and prayed for for years--and its counterpart, a fear of death? I wish I could say I’ve come through this fire with wisdom to spare on the other side, but the truth is that my only recourse has been prayer. Specifically, I ask the Lord to increase my desire for him and to silence my anxieties when I think of eternity. We live in the longing, after all, we humans--imprinted with a restlessness and longing for the fullness of the divine from the moment of our creation. My prayer is that these longings of mine be directed well, aimed fearlessly at the heart of heaven.
I find peace in the thought that if love and marriage on earth are meant to give us the tiniest glimpse of eternal life, and if heaven is such a banquet of perfect love, free from our weakness and imperfection, I don't even know what I'm missing out on. Of course it's better than anything I can imagine, because in my humanity, I literally can't imagine it.
For now, I know my call: to love and sanctify my husband and family and to receive their purifying love in return. And know I’m meant to trust that until these missions are fulfilled, in whatever time the Father intends, death needn’t be a concern.
St. Augustine famously prayed, Make me a saint, but not yet. He echoes my own thoughts in relation to life and death: Get me to Heaven, but not yet. I pray to desire it now, to live with eternity in mind; to be not afraid.
If fears like mine have taken hold of your own heart, know I’m there with you in the tension and that you have my prayers. If any particular practices have brought consolation to your soul, we love hearing your wisdom and sharing in your sisterhood.