Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Heaven Doesn't Feel Real


I’ll never forget the evening Brad and I walked past Noah’s bedroom a couple of weeks after Brad’s mom had died. Cat Stevens’Morning Has Broken was blasting on his CD player, and Noah sat tucked under his comforter next to the wide-open window. “I open my window and put this song on loud so Haukebo can hear it while she’s painting in Heaven,” Noah explained matter-of-factly to us.

Heaven doesn’t feel real like that for me. I know I’m supposed to believe in it, and I do, in a vague, religious kind of way, but it bothers me that I can’t wrap my head, or my heart, around it concretely.

I wish I believed in Heaven the way my kids do, but all I have is an amorphous, Christianese vision of Heaven. Frankly my view doesn’t offer much comfort; it doesn’t sustain me the way I suspect it does other people. I get some comfort from the thought of eternal life and the opportunity to spend face-to-face time with God, but Heaven? When I think of Heaven I draw a big blank.

Biblical descriptions of Heaven don’t help either. Pearly gates, streets of pure gold and a river bright as crystal sound like someone else’s vision (and I guess it is someone else's vision: it's John's). Like Brad said yesterday after we heard the description of Heaven from Revelation, “Gold streets don’t appeal to me. I think I’d prefer a softer, spongier material to walk on.”

When Noah was very young, his definition of Heaven consisted of “lots of white pine trees and mint chocolate chip ice cream all the time.” Yesterday after church when I asked him if his view of Heaven has changed since then, he told me that now he envisions “really puffy, soft clouds that you can walk on, and Ailanthus trees everywhere, growing right up out of the clouds, because Ailanthus means ‘tree of Heaven,’ you know.”

Rowan added that he thought Heaven will be a place where there’s “lots of fun stuff to do all the time.” I suspect he envisions infinite Mario Bros…without the nagging mother who puts a limit on screen time.

In the wake of my in-laws’ deaths, we’ve talked about Heaven more than usual in the last 18 months. I know I’ve used Heaven as a balm for the fear and pain that’s come with that loss, a way to offer brightness and hope for my kids in the midst of their grief. As a parent I’m desperate to ease my kids’ suffering, so I toss out Heaven as the only antidote I know. But to me, it feels like a weak consolation when they are missing their grandparents in the here and now.

I often ask the boys what they think Haukebo and Papa are doing in Heaven in an effort to create a link, a lasting connection between them and their beloved grandparents. But I think part of me is also trying to cement a vision of Heaven that they might carry with them into adulthood. While I know they won’t always believe that Heaven is comprised of mint chocolate chip ice cream, Ailanthus trees, Haukebo painting landscapes and Papa dancing to Johnny B. Goode, I hope that talking about Heaven now will somehow keep a sliver of it real for them later.

What about you? Does Heaven feel real to you?

{As an interesting side note: when I looked for images of Ailanthus trees on the web, I came across this description on the Duke University site: "More appropriately called the tree from hell, this common weedy tree is a seriously invasive species from China, most often found in disturbed areas and along roadsides." Hmmmm. Mabe Heaven really is in the eye of the beholder?).



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tesha  – (April 23, 2012 at 2:29 AM)  

I have to say Heaven is very real to me, and a place I can not wait to get to. After my Dad died three years ago I read Heaven by Randy Alcorn, it was a really Amazing book and I am so glad I read it! When My sixth child was born sleeping, I found great comfort from what I had learned about Heaven. I tell you the more people that I love that are there the sweeter it becomes. I am so very thankful for the Hope of Heaven.....otherwise death would be unbearable.

Shanda Oakley  – (April 23, 2012 at 4:01 AM)  

Heaven for me means no more chronic migraines and no more crying over my boys. I think it is more of an emotional and physical release. Although, I often say my mansion is a tiny cabana on ocean in Latin America: where the water is warm and there is no commercialism.

Patricia W Hunter –   – (April 23, 2012 at 4:52 AM)  

What an sweet and honest post, Michelle.  My mother used to tell me that it made her tired to think of heaven and living for eternity. But I think that it's because my mother is there now that Heaven feels more real than ever. Our pastor did a series of messages on Heaven a couple of years ago, while the small groups went through Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven" - which I highly recommend. {funny side note about the trees}. 

Karrie Shew –   – (April 23, 2012 at 5:07 AM)  

i wrote about heaven in my post.....we have been doing a study a church on heaven.  it becomes more real every day for me. 

Kyndra  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:40 AM)  

I would recommend N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope  for a thorough and thought provoking discussion of why our common view of heaven fails to accurately reflect Scripture. One of the problems with the "pearly gates, sitting on clouds, playing harps" view is that it fails to take into account that we were created to do and create like our Maker.

I believe that we will have meaningful and perfect work to do "in Heaven" as we are restored to what we were before the Fall. The thought of sitting around on a cloud doesn't connect with me at all, but the thought of being able to perpetually glorify God by perfectly fulfilling my calling is an amazing and exciting thought...K

Courtney Buxton  – (April 23, 2012 at 6:22 AM)  

My kids have not experienced the death of a loved one firsthand (yet) but we talk a lot about Heaven because my husband's father died before they were born. They realize that there is a missing grandparent, and we talk about "Hotdaddy" watching over them and smiling at their accomplishments. Just this weekend, my 5 year old asked if he could bring his lovey to Heaven. That lead to questions of what kind of toys might be in Heaven, specifically if there will be Legos. I told both boys, "I don't know, but I do know that you'll have everything you could ever want or need in Heaven." I also assured them that they won't be going for a long time, but they aren't worried about that part at all. The clincher came when my 3 year old cocked his head to the side and asked with concern, "But what if God or Jesus steps on our Legos?" This lead to the decision that they better not bring those. They certainly wouldn't want to draw the reaction that their parents give when we step on Legos! :)

All this to say - Heaven is more real to me now because it is so real to my kids. They've reawakened my imagination in that regard. Also, I read Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo in January and it blew me away. Must read.

JoAnne Potter  – (April 23, 2012 at 6:55 AM)  

You are right, Michelle.  Children imagine a more vivid heaven than do we.  I have heard about puppies, and meadows, and fishing, and who knows?  Maybe all those things make up heaven, but as life's end approaches, I know this--heaven's environment matters less, and God's presence matters more.  It's okay for heaven's specifics to escape us. The Bible's descriptions are, after all, only the ancient's way of capturing beauty and value.  I am convinced that heaven is far more than big trees and gold streets.  I think it is more like Isaiah pictures--rushing wings and allelulias.  It is a million million voices raised in ceaseless astonishment and praise.

Megan Willome  – (April 23, 2012 at 6:57 AM)  

I had a dream/trip/vision of heaven when I was a child and desperate. It is still as clear as day. The problem is that I'm not supposed to go there yet. I'm just beginning to embrace the here and now.

mary kathryn –   – (April 23, 2012 at 8:04 AM)  

Michelle, I apologize ahead of time. You've hit on my FAVORITE topic. The Bible has a lot to say about our life on the New Earth. The last few chapters of Isaiah are good to read. Also, remember that in Revelation, there's a distinction b/t what John can concretely describe to his audience (us), and what he has a hard time describing. Thus, he uses the word "like" a lot, meaning that the object he's seeing isn't REALLY made of rainbows or lapis or fire, but that's the closest he can get with his limited verbiage. It was such a revelation (haha!) to me when I read in Rev. 21 that Heaven and God's throne come down and are united with the New Earth, and God comes to live with us. It's also very important to me to keep remembering that I believe in the resurrection of my body, and all believers' bodies. We'll live in a physical world, which God will make for us, suited to our bodies and spirits both. Scripture talks about animals, and trees, and wine -- real places, tangible. I truly think God will make us a new earth like this one, but perfected, like Eden. I spend a lot of thought time wondering about the excellencies of that place -- what would it mean if we could do all good physical activities, in perfect safely? To really have dominion over the animals, plants, the world? To have angels as our servants? Isaiah 9, 11, 53 and on, the end of Micah, those are some helpful chapters. Bless you, dear sister in Jesus :) When you read it, for a minute, take it as literally as you can. Imagine a physical existence for eternity, with your sweet family and Jesus too.  This life on a broken planet is just a blink of an eye, compared to that. I try to dwell long and hard on what will be the much longer part of my life. Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven" is also excellent, although he does a bit of healthy speculation. God bless you in your search!

Irene  – (April 23, 2012 at 8:28 AM)  

Hi Michelle. :-)

I think it's enough for me to know that Heaven is a place where I will finally be with our Creator, reunited with all my loved ones who went ahead of me, and watch and listen to all the angels sing songs of praise to the Almighty. I also see it as a place where all earthly sufferings no longer exist.

Thank you so much once again for your honesty in this post, Michelle. I'll pray that you'll be able to feel what Heaven really is like. I believe it will come upon you and I know the Holy Spirit will show it to you. :-)

Take care always and God bless! :-)

Lisagburgess  – (April 23, 2012 at 9:48 AM)  

Another great post, Michelle. Who can say what heaven really is like? What we get from the Bible isn't  very easy to nail down (although some do anyway). I think of heaven as happiness...being in the presence of God guarantees it. All the details? I'm clueless. ;-) But that's okay. It'll be good; that's all I know.

Shelly Miller  – (April 23, 2012 at 11:01 AM)  

I don't think about what it will be like too much, just that it will be so much better than what I know now. And that's all that really matters. Your kids have such vivid imaginations. I love way the way God made them and the way they give you so much good stuff to write about!

Lyli@3dLessons4Life  – (April 23, 2012 at 11:37 AM)  

We recently lost our grand daughter, age 4 months.  I find myself thinking about when we will be reunited -- she will be a grown up, I guess.  right?  So hard to fathom.  I picture my mom in law in heaven surrounded by her grandchild and great grandchild.  I picture God on the throne surrounded by light, but other than that, it's a big blur to me. 

mamaabby –   – (April 23, 2012 at 11:45 AM)  

You know, again I find your real~ness so refreshing...well, Heaven, for me, has absolutely evolved especially in the 10 years since Mama went there and really in that season caring for her leading to her Homegoing.  I love C.S. Lewis' depiction in 'the Last Battle' and 'the Great Divorce' and I loved 'Heaven is for Real'.  But mostly, all that I long for and look to in Heaven is the face of the Lamb...the One who has comforted in all of the pain & grief of this veil of tears as he wipes each last one away and I gain Heaven's eyes over all that has happened in pain here, not only for me, but for those I love and for all who have suffered.  I long for the closure of all of the questions and the ones that just fall away because He is all the Glory, there is no need of Sun or Lamp...really, truly, Heaven is seeing Him, beholding and receiving my every heart's desire forever.  And I do believe a vision of Heaven that sustains a life comes as He becomes more and more purely the desire and worship of our heart of hearts.  I cannot picture a longing for Heaven that is not inextricably intertwined with that clarity and purity of heart to know Him and love Him and live for Him above all others:}

p.s. I hope you smile when you read my post {if you get to, no pressure}...it makes me smile to think of how we are realist meet idealist friends...so thankful for you, you know!  You keep me real!

Angi Pratt  – (April 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM)  

I think not having a right view of Heaven is one of Satan's biggest trick ts for believers. If we aren't living with an eternal perspective because we're not excited for Heaven, his tricks are working. Until a couple years ago I was the same way. Not excited about Heaven because I thought it would be a boring sing along. And then I read Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I truly believe that every Christian should read that book!

It's just so good! It's set up sort of like a reference book so you can see what scripture says about a certain topic. Like will we know each other in Heaven or will we eat? It's so so so encouraging! I hope you get a chance to read it! :)

Thanks as always for hosting this! We appreciate you Michelle!

dukeslee  – (April 23, 2012 at 11:53 AM)  

I really, really get this. I've struggled, too. I have tried to get a better handle on Heaven by reading books about the place. After all, I'd like to know more about the Home where I plan to live forever. :) But still, I'm pretty sure writers' efforts fall far short of describing what heaven is like. It's such a vague thing, but yet we humans ache to know. I suspect that's because God has set eternity in the hearts of men, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3. 

A Nebraskan wrote a book called Heaven is For Real. When we get there one day, Michelle, we'll surely find it is even more real than this place ever was. 

Jean Wise  – (April 23, 2012 at 12:05 PM)  

Interesting topic and wow, did you get and are getting some indepth comments as well. 

First of all, I love it that you as a mother are having such wonderful conversations with your kids.  love their answers as well.

I appreciated your honest, raw exploration of your feelings about heaven.  

I am learning to accept more and more the mysterious and unknowns of life and death. I used to want everything in black and white but now live more comfortable with the unknown tension of reality.  I think my basic belief about heaven is : it will be a great new adventure with God.

Shelly Faust  – (April 23, 2012 at 1:14 PM)  

I love how you are so transparent. And really, I imagine a lot of us feel this way. Part of "growing up" is so often linked with accepting reality and dismissing fairytales. Heaven sometimes seems like a fairytale. But as we grow in our faith, heaven is part of our reality...our happy ending...or beginning. Eternity, placed within us and a soul longing for home. Increase my faith, God...let us believe even when we can't always see our touch or know.

JosephPote –   – (April 23, 2012 at 1:51 PM)  

I absolutely love your transparency, Michelle!

What will Heaven and the New Earth be like?

I don't know...but I accept, in faith, that it will be really good.

I also suspect it will include a lot more work than most of us realize.  If life in this world is intended to prepare us for the next, then something in the next life must require the need for prayer warriors walking by faith and working diligently doing the will of the father.

What do I most look forward to in Heaven?  Clear communication...no more wondering...no more seeing thru a glass, darkly...    ;-)

Hazel Irene Moon  – (April 23, 2012 at 1:54 PM)  

I am reminded of the saying (or is it a song?)  Where Jesus is - tis heaven there.  My mother always told me that there will be a LOT of praise a music in heaven, so I was to get used to praising God now and get in practice.

it000016 –   – (April 23, 2012 at 2:13 PM)  

We cannot begin to imagine in our limited earthly minds what Heaven will be like. The best part I believe will be having unlimited, one-on-one time with Jesus.
God bless,
Laurie
http://savedbygracebiblestudy.blogspot.com/

Michelle Eichner  – (April 23, 2012 at 2:34 PM)  

Funny that this is your topic today, because it's very similar to mine. I'm not sure we'll ever be able to really wrap our minds around Heaven because it's God's & it's eternal - beyond what our finite minds can handle. I'm thankful it's reality, even if I can't understand it.
Blessings,
Michelle

Charming's Mama  – (April 23, 2012 at 4:47 PM)  

I'm not sure that the place of Heaven itself offers me any comfort, but rather the promise of seeing Jesus and hope of being reunited with loved ones lost.  Because after all isn't the "definition" of hell, separation from God?  So heaven for me is to enter into His presence under the atoning sacrifice of His son.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 4:57 PM)  

I like that perspective, Michelle. And I'm curious about your post - will hop over there later tonight to read it!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 4:58 PM)  

That's the one thing I am confident of - that Heaven will be a chance to spend time with God face-to-face. I think that may just be all the definition I really need.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 4:59 PM)  

I think you are so right - our limited, Earthly minds cannot possibly fathom Heaven. I guess that's part of faith -- the suspension of our disbelief, and the confidence of knowing without seeing.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:00 PM)  

I love how simple that is: where Jesus is, tis Heaven there.

I sing a lot of hymns around the house, too, much to Rowan's chagrin!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:00 PM)  

Oh yes, Joe - to see clearly..won't that be a wondrous experience?!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:01 PM)  

A beautiful prayer, Shelly - thank you so much for that.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:02 PM)  

I am loving the comments here today - I feel such comfort from so many friends who are willing to reach out with their perceptions and definitions of Heaven.

And I think you are right, Jean - we grow more comfortable with the unknown tension of reality as we mature. Believe it or not, I am less black and white now than I used to be!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:05 PM)  

I read Heaven is for Real a few months ago, and I really did enjoy it. At some point it seemed to get a little fantastical or far-fetched for me though - but I guess that's part of my problem: my inability to totally believe in what I can't see.

Love that Ecclesiastes verse by the way -- I've often thought that explains why I have such a restless spirit.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:06 PM)  

I am absolutely going to get my hands on a copy of "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn - you are about the 5th person to recommend that book here today, Angi.

Thank you for your honesty and for your grace in accepting me with all my flaws and doubts!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:08 PM)  

And you, my friend, inspire me with your hope and faith - I just love you, Abby!

{and thank you for the C.S. Lewis recommendations}

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:09 PM)  

Oh Lyli, I am so, so sorry to hear the devastating news about your precious granddaughter. I had no idea. My prayers are with you and your family, dear friend. My God continue to breathe peace into your heart.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:09 PM)  

I know - Brad asked me the other night: "What are you going to write about when the kids grow up?!" My answer: "You!" Ha - that'll show him!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 5:11 PM)  

I do like your approach, Lisa. Simple is sometimes better when it comes to these things. I tend to overcomplicate with my tendency to analyze. What I need to do more of is simply rest in God.

rmoon2004 –   – (April 23, 2012 at 6:16 PM)  

Heaven will be a busy place.  Some will be ruling and reigning and others will be picking fruit!!  Perhaps you will be singing in the choir with the angels?  No matter, it will be a lovely place and as time is catching up with me, it may not be long before I will know for certain how wonderful it will be.
 

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 7:03 PM)  

Awwww, Robert - I sure pray you have quite a bit longer on this Earth - selfishly, I like seeing you around the blogosphere and all!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 7:07 PM)  

MK, thank you, thank you for taking the time to put Heaven into words for me here - you (with the help of Revelation and Isaiah) have painted quite a picture for me here. I, too, was struck this Sunday by that passage you cite here - the one about God coming to live with us in  a very real and tangible way. I just love the thought of that.

I will do exactly as you advise: I will read the passages you have recommended here and try to envision it as literally as I can. I admit, I have only read through Revelation once in its entirety, so it will be good for me to revisit that book. My interest was definitely piqued this weekend when we read bits and pieces from it.

Thank you again, MK - you are such a treasure to me!

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 7:08 PM)  

I hear you, Megan, I hear you. I have trouble living in the here and now, but I have equal trouble envisioning eternal life. I think that explains my restless spirit a bit.

Michelle DeRusha  – (April 23, 2012 at 7:09 PM)  

This I LOVE, JoAnne: "heaven's environment matters less, and God's presence matters more." And this, too: "It is a million million voices raised in ceaseless astonishment and praise." What a glorious vision you have painted here. Love you, lady!

Nancy Franson  – (April 23, 2012 at 8:55 PM)  

Oh, my friend! It's been far too long since I've wandered over here--I've been stuck in technology world which, trust me, is far, far, removed from any ideas worth having about heaven!

I find myself longing more and more for heaven, and I think it has to do with finding myself dissatisfied with stuff in this world. Every time I feel my heart breaking about something or someone I love I keep thinking, "This is not how it's supposed to be." And I long for things to be the way they're supposed to be.

These days I tend to think of heaven as restoration of everything  that once was perfect and whole and good. That's what I want.

dukeslee  – (April 23, 2012 at 9:50 PM)  

I enjoyed the book,  but had a similar reaction as you, Michelle. That was the point I was trying to make in the first comment, though I did a poor job of articulating it. :)  ... I guess my main thought is this: Authors can only grope for words to describe what most likely defies human terms.

Shaunie Friday  – (April 24, 2012 at 12:18 PM)  

As you always do so well, Michelle, you have so honestly shared your heart--I'm sure you're not the only one who feels this way! The cool thing is, by sharing how you feel, you let others know they're not alone, and you give us for whom heaven feels real and eagerly anticipated a chance to share how we got there. For me, there are a few things that have been significant in how I think of heaven--the most important and authoritative is obviously the Bible, but I know what you mean about it being sometime hard to envision and relate to. That being said, the most vivid influence for me is The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, the final book in his Chronicles of Narnia. If you haven't read it, I don't want to spoil it for you, so just trust me and read it. Also by Lewis, the chapter that inspired the title of my blog, from the book Letters to Malcolm--Letter XVII. I cannot read this chapter without tears so you must read the whole thing, but the last part will give you a taste, "It
is only in our 'hours-off,' only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we
find an analogy.  Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for
'down here' is not their natural place. 
Here, they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to
live.  But in this world everything is
upside down.  That which, if it could be
prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is
the End of ends.  Joy is the serious
business of Heaven."

Shaunie Friday  – (April 24, 2012 at 12:22 PM)  

Me too, Nancy! The farther this old world goes, the more I groan with it and long for it's complete remaking so we can see and enjoy what it was always intended to be--VERY GOOD!! And so, I fully enjoy all that is still good while I'm here, and look forward eagerly to that someday we are promised!!

Dayle  – (April 24, 2012 at 4:46 PM)  

All I can say, if heaven is a dream, let me dream on!

Laura Boggess  – (April 24, 2012 at 10:02 PM)  

Hmm. Tree from hell. Very interesting.

I don't know why, but I don't like to think about heaven.  It seems like a cop out. Maybe that's weird, but I've never wanted to live for that. The kingdom is among us, right? It's all so complicated. Perhaps that's why I don't like to think about it. Can't wrap my mind around it. It bothers me when people think they can. So...you're ok with me, my friend. More than that.

Connie@raise your eyes  – (April 24, 2012 at 11:09 PM)  

As Tesha said, " the more people that I love that are there the sweeter it becomes. I am
so very thankful for the Hope of Heaven.....otherwise death would
be unbearable."

The longer I live, the more I watch loved ones cross over...but when I think of Heaven, it's the people--and our GOD--that I envision, not the pearly gates.

Also the older I get, the more I hear myself saying, "Well this ain't Heaven honey." That's what my dear 95 year old friend used to say before she passed on.

Angi Pratt  – (April 25, 2012 at 2:40 PM)  

If only we were neighbors you could come over and borrow it! :) Just imagine I've made you tea and cookies!

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