As I got older, my imagination got a little more sophisticated, but the overall scenery stayed the same. My Girl Scout camping kit became the rudimentary cooking tools I'd use to make a meal for my pioneer family - my Holly Hobbie dolls and my dog, playing key roles in said family - as we camped out near the stream we'd come across in our trek westward.
It's been a long time since I've played imaginary games like these, but that longing to be a part of a simpler time and more connected to God's creation in nature has never left me. I still feel myself most connected to God when I am outdoors - though nowadays I am digging in the dirt, planting flowers, pulling weeds, and marveling at His endless creativity.
I've also found that longing piqued by certain literature. I've written before how very much I love the writing of Wendell Berry, whose fiction is largely about a small town in Kentucky and the people who lived there. His writing is rich with descriptions of a time gone by, both in terms of how we survived as a people, living largely off the land, as well as the connectedness of individuals within that community. Berry has an amazing ability to breathe life into a story with his words. His writing feeds a desire in me to once again live in a time when life ran slower, people genuinely meant something to each other, and God loomed large in the lives and livelihood of all.
I recently discovered that I'm not alone in this very specific response to Berry's writing, either. A friend of mine and I were recently sharing what we are currently reading, have read lately or are going to read soon. (Yes, we are both bookworm nerds and totally fine with it.) She wrote something that I thought articulated not just her heart, but mine as well:
I have to take Wendell Berry in fairly small doses, partly because I love savoring him...partly because reading him makes me long so much for the simplicity of the rural life my grandparents had...and partly because I sometimes get so sad about how shallow my community ties here are when I read about the depth of community life they had. He plucks my country-girl introverted strings in just such a way that I might move off to our little cabin in the woods and become a hermit, seeing no one save for the few folks down the lane who come to visit and pick blackberries. I know these are not modern or "healthy" tendencies but it's how I’m woven...I might have done well to live in the lifetime of Hannah Coulter (a Wendell Berry character). But God gave me this life and says I'm woven for it, so here I'll strive to thrive, all the while knowing those sorrows are all part of the whole longing for the "not yet" of heaven, where depth of community will no longer be a sorrowful struggle.My friend, in tying the longing she feels when reading Berry to her desire for the "something more of heaven," has hit the nail on the head.
There's something about the reality of our lives in the here and now that creates in all of us an almost unstoppable longing for "something more."
We all seem to be fairly proficient at putting our fingers on those points in our lives that are "not quite what we wish they were." It really doesn't matter what the details of your life look like; if I were to ask you to pinpoint something in your life that disappoints you, or where you'd make a change or wish things were different, I am guessing you could answer that question fairly quickly. We all carry around with us that list of things we'd change if we could.
This discontentment with our lives, however it manifests itself, can oftentimes create a temptation to sin, but my point is not to address the many ways in which ingratitude worms its way into our hearts and causes us to stumble.
Rather, the discontentment I am talking about is more of a "holy longing" that is evidence that we were built for something more. Of course we're dissatisfied with the day-to-day reality of what it's like to live out life this side of heaven - we are all desperately broken people trying to relate to other hopelessly-damaged souls in the context of a deeply-corrupted creation...and God has created us for so much more.
Our five-year-old has of late been wrestling with questions about heaven and, coincidentally, many of his questions seem to center on whether or not God's view of heaven will be "good enough" for him. Of course he doesn't articulate it like that. Instead, what he has been doing is asking if he can take this or that prized possession with him to heaven. For a few weeks now he's been cataloguing for his Daddy and I the things he wants to take with him when he goes to heaven: his favorite stuffed animal (actually, there are probably 20 reserved for heaven at this point), the little evergreen tree in our front yard, a cool stick, and fruits snacks are on his list, and the list continues to grow. The underlying idea, it seems, is that it won't be heaven if he isn't surrounded with the things he loves, values, things that comfort him.
I think even at five years old he's sensing that life here on earth "isn't all it could be" and yet is fearful that heaven won't be either.
I wonder if we aren't all just a little like our young son. Since none of us has a very clear vision for what heaven will be like (1 Corinthians 2:9), don't we all struggle to believe that leaving everything here behind will be far better (Philippians 1:21-23)?
I think so. Our view of heaven is so corrupted by the things we value here that we can't possibly imagine what beauty awaits us and even if we did know, we couldn't articulate it - Paul saw it himself and couldn't put words to it (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).
When we feel our hearts longing for the unattainable - like, for me and my friend, the "kingdom" that Wendell Berry's writing so vividly portrays - we would do well to remind ourselves that our longing is really pointing to a greater Kingdom (Romans 8:22-23). This Kingdom, while the details right now are an indescribable unknown to us, is at core the very presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). As believers, our longing for "something more" will one day be completely and utterly fulfilled, not because we reach heaven with our arms filled with our treasures, but because we will, by God's grace, fall into the arms of the One who made us to long for Him.