I woke up in heaven today. To be honest, I was scared I wasn’t going to wake up at all. A long, dark night. Yeah, it really was. Slowly shuffling my feet with my eyes dragging down, scared to meet Jesus face to face. I mean, I know I believed and all. I really did. I really do. But some strange thoughts roll through my head right now. Regrets. Fears. Sins of omissions, as they call them. And those haunting words: “Those who know to do right and don’t, sin.” repeated a thousand times to my face and yet how many times had I not heeded? Too many. My faith wavered. I barely endured. In fact, my final hour wasn’t too noble. I was scared to death of death. What if I didn’t make it there?
Hell’s a scary thought. And now I was trying to come up with excuses, reasons for why I did what I did and didn’t do what I didn’t. And I’ve never been very good at explaining myself. Besides, try to come up with excuses to God! Pretty hard when He knows what you’re thinking before you know yourself. So I got to stick to the back of the crowd, hoping maybe, they’ll overlook me. I can’t stand the thought of cross-examination. My wood, hay and stubble burning in a divine inferno right before my eyes! I shudder at the thought.
I bump into another brother in the back, maybe avoiding the front scene as well. He looks friendly enough at first glance.
He says, smiling, “Shawn?”
Taken aback, I stutter, “You know me?”
His strange grin chuckles, “Shawn, seriously, this is heaven, nobody’s a nobody here.”
I’m relieved, at least a little. Noticing my hesitation, he assures me, “I, uh, have seen you quite a bit. Actually, I’ve been here before you were even born. I lived on earth years before your time.”
Thinking about my more shameful earthly moments and how he’s “seen me quite a bit”, I mutter, “Oh.” And then realizing he might read my attitude, I force a more confident, “Oh. Cool. Yeah. Awesome.”
I lift my eyes for the first time and sustain eye contact with his. And what I see makes me not want to look down again.
He’s looking right into mine, with the deepest understanding and compassion that I’d ever seen. Ever. He must know what I’ve went through, those long years of faith tainted by doubt, of obedience with sin never far behind, the love full of fear, anger, and jealousy. The emptiness I often lived in. I had missed the “victorious Christian life” my pastor had always spoken of so proudly. I had missed it and knew it. But knew something else now. I think this man knew too. He did. I know it.
Suddenly, he hurried his arms and chest into mine and hugged me deeply. And he wasn’t faking it. And he wasn’t being weird either. I felt like I’d just met a long lost friend once again. Having a single friend in heaven was worth the lot for me. Best friends forever really holds true here. Literally.
“Oh, Shawn, I’m so glad you made it,” he consoles, as he releases me to breathe. (Long hugs take your breath away. Both ways.) He continues, lighting up now, “Oh, man, you have no idea what this place is like. Man…” taking in and out a deep breath and obviously deep in thought—good thoughts though—must be good thoughts with that look on his face, “And Father…oh… Father…man, all this is dung compared to Him. You’re in for something, Shawn…you really are…”
And for a few moments, my heart sprung up, as I really started to believe him. I could feel something begin to settle deep inside, like a warm, engulfing blanket after you were lost in the cold night for far too long—something like…hope. But then I remember 1 Corinthians 3 and those fatal words, “and he himself will suffer lose, but will be saved but only as through fire.” I thought about the speech I had been trying to rehearse. I mean, failing to rehearse.
Fear suddenly seizes me again. A panic attack. But I try my best to compose myself. My friend’s countenance changes slightly, possibly noticing my change of composure. Hoping to avoid that dreaded awkward silence and trying my best to save my butt, I counter, “So, um, what do you think I should say when…you know…when I stand before Him. I uh—”
“Jesus. Claim the blood of Jesus, then shut up,” he advises and by the look in his eyes, I could tell he was dead serious.
Of course, I knew that. But what should I say?!? I exasperated in my head, but said instead, “Yeah, yeah. Of course. Right…I knew that.”
But he knew me too well for that, even though he’d only just met me. (Heaven’s weird like that. Cool-weird though. It messes with your head.) “Shawn. Trust me on this one. You’ll get through just fine. You’ll clear. I know it. And then I can show you around; I can show you everything. Really.”
I try to look at him—I know he is trying to help me feel better—but I just know the imperfect, selfish man I have been, and I just can’t…I can’t…believe that…I…could actually…
“You’re much better than you think, you know.” What? Me? Does he really think that I…
And as if he already knew, responded, “And much worse.” Oh, great. Here comes another sermon…even in heaven…
And then he started to laugh. Can you believe it? This guy just started to laugh to my face right there in front of everybody! Shame filled my eyes and all they could bring themselves to do was trace the pattern around my awkward feet.
But wait. What was that sound? There was something there. Something in his laughter that wasn’t so bad, that was so…so…happy?
“But we don’t remember those things anymore here. You see—”
But all of sudden, I see another man, pretty far off, motioning my friend to come to him. Something urgent, apparently. My heart starts to sink; I was just getting my hopes up, and now he’s got to go, leaving my confidence still shaken. Turning to go, he puts his right hand in mine with his left overtop and whispers, “Trust me.”
And I want to say back “I will,” but instead mutter, “I’ll try,” or something obscure that I can’t even remember and that surely must have sounded stupid. And then he was gone. I would have shouted out after him, “Wait! Your name…what’s your name? How will I find you…” But instead my thoughts turn to the holes that I felt in his wrists as he clasped my hands in his and I just stopped and mulled it over and over and over again in my head.
And then I turned to face the Throne.