When Roger Ebert died of cancer a few months ago, I came across this article he wrote about his wife, whom he adored, and their frequent wanderings and adventures. Maybe it was just my pregnancy hormones, but I couldn’t stop crying. It was her second marriage and his first, late in life, and he says, “this woman never lost her love, and when it was necessary she forced me to want to live. She was always there believing I could do it, and her love was like a wind forcing me back from the grave.” The image of a woman essentially caring for her terminally ill husband as a full-time job, with patience and fortitude, and even calling him out at times, just does me in.
The reason why it kills me, I think, stems from a realization I had about myself a while ago; a realization I’m actually not comfortable with at all. Here goes: as a Christian, I’m embarrassed to say that 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 Andrew and raising our future family. I find myself secretly hoping the Second Coming won’t happen during my lifetime, I tear up immediately when I think of being separated from my husband, and I struggle sometimes with the idea that, theologically, there’s no marriage in Heaven. There. I said it.
I feel so immeasurably blessed by my husband, a man who shows me Christ’s love in such a real, tangible way. The thing I wonder and worry about sometimes, though, is if, by loving him so much, I somehow love God less. 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 the Father this way, to an even deeper extent? I know, of course, that Andrew isn’t, nor should he be, the ultimate source of my happiness. I should never make him into an idol. Still, I feel guilty sometimes.
The thing that brings me peace is the thought that if love and marriage on earth are meant to give us the tiniest glimpse of Heaven, and if Heaven is such a banquet of perfect love, where we’re free from our weaknesses and imperfections, I don’t even know what I’m missing out on. Of course it’s better than anything I can imagine, because I literally can’t imagine it. For now, I feel like I should constantly be on my knees in thanksgiving for that small window into divine love that He’s given me.
Smarter words than mine come to mind. St. Augustine famously said something like “make me a saint, but not yet.” Get me to Heaven, but not yet. Maybe he and I are talking about slightly different things here, though I certainly fall victim to pushing off holiness for later. I pray to desire it now, to be not afraid. And Victor Hugo concluded Les Miserables with, “to love another person is to see the face of God.” No truer words, I don’t think.