A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent the day with our little grandson. The cool morning temperatures coaxed us outdoors for a walk to a nearby park. When we arrived, we discovered several pieces of playground equipment which were appropriate for very little children. Though Danny couldn’t negotiate any of them alone, with Grandpa’s and my help, he thoroughly enjoyed the baby swing, a very small slide, the seesaw and a rocking turtle. Danny’s smile grew with each new adventure. In the midst of all of this, Grandpa Mike announced, “Danny’s in playground heaven!”
Later that day, when Grandpa went off to run errands, Danny and I took another walk to that park. This time, I brought along a bottle of bubbles. After enjoying those wonderful pint-sized rides once again, I put Danny back into his stroller. From there, he watched intently as I created a sea of bubbles for him. Danny tried hard to touch the bubbles which came close. When he missed, he watched as they sailed away. I admit that I did the same thing. Though Danny’s smile indicated that he might have been in “bubble heaven”, I was certainly there.
It seems to me that each of us can describe those perfect circumstances which would make us feel that we are in one type of heaven or another. Cubs fans are in “baseball heaven” these days, while White Sox and Bears fans hope to be in their own variety of heaven sooner than later. Many of us long for “job heaven” while many others hope for “relationship heaven”. The list is endless. Sometimes, these possibilities seem out of reach and we dismiss them as pure folly. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that if conditions conformed to our wishes, we would be in heaven after all. At times, we’re so convinced that we’ll do anything and everything to make it so.
In Luke’s gospel (15:1-32), Jesus referenced “lost sheep heaven” and “lost coin heaven” and “rich heir heaven”. In the first two scenarios, Jesus described people who’d lost things which were very dear to them and who worked very hard to find these treasures once again. A man with a herd of one hundred sheep left ninety-nine to search for one lost animal. He ventured onto treacherous terrain to bring that little wanderer home. When he found him, the man called his friends to celebrate with him. A woman who discovered she’d lost one of ten precious coins turned her house upside-down to find it. When she succeeded, she too called her friends to celebrate with her. In the third scenario, the young man who desired to be in “rich heir heaven” was seeking something which wasn’t actually his. Still, he pressed on.
The young man who desired “rich heir heaven” asked his father for his inheritance. Though he could have requested an advance on his allowance or a small loan, this son asked his father to behave as though he was dead. He asked his father to give him what would be rightfully his upon his father’s death. In Jesus’ day, this young man could neither insult nor hurt his father more deeply than he did by making this demand. Nonetheless, though his son’s demand was completely out of line, this father complied. And so it was that the young man pursued “heaven” for himself.
He spent every penny surrounding himself with the right people: those who saw things his way and who brought him pleasure of one kind or another. He ate and drank well without lifting a finger except, of course, to open his money bag to keep things the way he liked them. Eventually, the young man’s money ran out. He was left with neither food nor finances nor friends. “Rich heir heaven” faded into nothingness. Finally, he agreed to tend pigs with the hope of securing a bit of food for himself. When no one came to his aid, the young man realized that he had not only squandered his inheritance, but had also discarded the most precious relationships in his life. Full of sorrow and regret, this lost son adjusted his perception of heaven. He set out for the place that once was his home to beg for a job beside the servants. He would happily exchanged “rich heir heaven” for “lowly servant heaven” in a heartbeat. Fortunately for the young man, his father envisioned “my beloved children heaven” where all of his family would dwell in peaceful love.
I wish I had been among the people who listened as Jesus told the prodigal son’s story for the first time. I wish I could have looked into Jesus’ eyes as he described the joy of welcoming a lost child home. In those eyes, I might have caught a glimpse of God’s Heaven: That place where, one day, you and I will discover “heaven” in its fullest, truest and most awesomely wonderful form.
©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved