Homesick for Heaven

Rev. Mark Braun

Last summer I read Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, by psychologist Mary Pipher. It is probably similar to dozens of other such books.

Many old people are living in a world designed for the young, she observed. They can no longer drive busy highways or walk through crowded shopping malls. They cannot deal with rushed doctors in
managed health care systems. Many cannot handle stairs, small-print books or menus in darkened restaurants. For the first time in history, many middle-aged people will have more parents alive than they will children.

Until late in the previous century, we spent time with people of all generations. Today, we grow up being grouped together by age. We put 3-year-olds together, and 13-year-olds together, and 80-year-olds together. Many of us will have little contact with old people until we grow old ourselves.
Old people seem different than we are, and that can make us nervous.

And people do change as they age, or maybe it is that their generation was always a little different from ours. Because they can remember doing without, older people associate food with security. They cook
giant meals but are hurt when their children seem not to appreciate it. My generation grew up with an abundance of food, and our parents praised us for belonging to the “clean plate club.” They urge us to eat more, but we may associate too much food with gluttony and heart attacks instead of love.

Our parents were raised to appreciate modesty and good manners. They did what was expected of them and were taught not to complain. They warned us – often, in German – that “self-praise stinks.” They were not supposed to talk about themselves, and they feel uncomfortable now when asked
to examine their feelings. “Make the best of things.” “Look at the bright side.” “Don’t go asking for trouble.” They didn’t talk about sex, or they carefully talked around it.

They are shocked at our language, and uncomfortable with our openness and casualness in dealing with others. We seem to be talking about our feelings or our relationships or our disappointments or our selves all the time.

We want our elders not to be a bother,to be persistently cheerful, to be interested in others, to be optimistic and generous, to be uncontroversial in their opinions – yet we seldom hold ourselves to such high expectations!

Much of what Mary Pipher wrote I found to be thought-provoking and convicting, but I was disappointed with her chapter, “Homesick for heaven.” In it she said not a word about eternal life or forgiveness or Jesus. The closest she came was in meeting an old woman at Walgreen’s who told her, “All the people I love most are underground. I just want to be with them. I’m homesick for heaven.”

I can’t read hearts, but I am sure all the people I love are not underground. Many have gone on ahead to be with Jesus. In God’s management of things, as we feel the world rushing faster and faster past us, the promised happiness of heaven grows dearer.

“I’m ready to go. I want to be with Jesus.” These are not voices of despair but the expression of hope
nurtured over decades of life.

“If I go and prepare a place for you,” Jesus said, “I will come back and take you to be with me.” Paul wrote, “We have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.” And again: “So we will be with the Lord forever.”

I’m already homesick for heaven.

Rev. Mark Braun is a Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, WI, and a member of the Christian Life Resources’ Board of Directors.


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