Is it OK to long to go to heaven?
I visited with an elderly widower who shared his loneliness and his desire to be with the Lord. He is hoping that this year will be his last here on earth. He showed me a photograph of the engraved headstone he created for his grave. Along with his wife’s lifespan, his own name and lifespan was engraved – complete with the current year as the final year of his life.
“How will you know that you will die this year?”, I asked the widower. He seemed put-off by my question as though the answer was crystal clear. He talked about his desire to be with his wife and his desire to be with Christ. He said that he HOPED that this would be the final year. He chided me for not understanding, saying that I was too young to understand. He said that one day I will be old and will understand how old people want to be with their Lord. He assured me that he wasn’t planning on making this his final year – that was still in God’s hands. We chuckled together and I wondered how many more years of engraved headstones he would create until he finally got the year correct.
After this conversation, I began to think about the desire of our elder believers to “be with the Lord”. I considered how Paul wrote about this very thing in Philippians 1:20-24, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”
More so than the rest of us, elderly believers are ready to be with their Lord – they long to go to heaven – and that longing for heaven is unique for the elderly.
Unlike Paul, they see that their season of fruitful work is over.
When your health is frail or your mind is clouded, it can be difficult to imagine that there is more fruitful work for you to do here on earth. Many of our elders feel useless – especially as compared to all they did in their younger years. There is an undeniable sense of having nearly completed their calling. They simply long to go and be with Christ.
There is a terrible suffering in feeling useless. All throughout life, others have valued us based on our capacity to achieve, produce and create. Our elders face a final journey in their walk with God to believe that what appears to be “useless” is actually “useful” in God’s Kingdom economy. In their final years, our elders are asked to put their faith in God’s economy and believe that something as “useless” as just being themselves is a “useful” work. Even with their pain, depression, dementia, blindness or deafness, they are a source of God’s presence to those with whom their lives connect.
It is fairly easy to think of someone who brightens our life just by being themselves – a grandchild, a friend, a parent, a spouse, a newborn baby. They don’t have to DO anything to bring joy. They just ARE. They enter the room and people’s spirits are lifted, inspiration is found and smiles are automatic.
It is much harder for those who feel useless to imagine themselves being that same ray of light. And yet I’ve heard grandchildren, children, nurses, spouses and friends speaking often about how the elderly and infirmed inspire, enlighten, bless, affirm and bring joy. Is it possible that there is a “useful” work yet to be done? Is it possible that this work that looks nothing like a production line and looks much more like a warm hug?
Our elders have spent a lifetime enjoying their Saviour and long to be with him.
For elderly believers, longing to be with their Saviour, Christ, is a normal state of mind. Some have spent eighty or ninety years growing in a relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. They have learned to love the comfort, guidance, rest and joy that is found in a vibrant walk with God. They have sought His presence for decades – and now, naturally, they long to see Him face-to-face. They are tired of “seeing through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12). They long to know God completely just as He has known them completely all of their lives. Their longing is to finish the puzzle, to end the mystery, to finally meet their Bridegroom.
For many elders, there are more loved ones in heaven than here on earth.
There is a certain point in an elderly person’s life when they have outlived the majority of their friends and close relatives. The loss of a spouse can leave a deep and painful void in their life. At some point, it dawns on them – there are more people that I love in heaven than here on earth. And with this realization, the desire to join their loved ones in heaven grows even stronger.
Is it ok to long to go to heaven? It’s NORMAL to long to go to heaven! As believers, we sing many songs about what it will be like to finally be with the Lord, “One glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away….” – “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation to take me home, what joy shall fill my heart….” – “I can only imagine when that day comes and I find myself standing in the Son….”
Although I don’t recommend engraving a headstone year-by-year with the date that you anticipate your own passing, I do recommend indulging in the comfort offered by Jesus Christ when he spoke to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me…I am going to prepare a place for you. You know the way to the place where I am going… I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:1-6
Sharon Simpson is the Director, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place, a senior’s campus-of-care located in Abbotsford, BC. She regularly writes for Menno Place, The Light Magazine, and the MB Herald.