One of my favorite places to experience glimmers of heaven is through the friendships we’re offered here on earth. When I think of the ways that all nations will come together and what it will be like to experience “the healing of the nations,” (Revelation 22:2) many friendships come to mind.
First, I think of my friend from Spain. Saray speaks very little English, and my Spanish caps out after small talk. Conversation about the weather and how many siblings we each have can only take us so far. But as in heaven, when we will all understand each other without language barriers, on earth we find ways to nurture our friendship without a common dialect. We share photos off our phones with each other. We play Rummikub–a numbers game with a fitting tagline: “Brings people together.” We laugh at the antics of our dogs–hers, a frilly Pomeranian dressed in denim jackets and tulle skirts, and mine, a bouncy 60-pound, eager-to-play mixed breed. We delight in delicious food of her culture, which she often spends days preparing. We laugh at Google Translate mistakes, sometimes merely grammatical and other times leading us down rabbit-trails of additional questions and misunderstandings when the original query was something as simple as, “Do you ever shop at Grocery Outlet?”
I also think of my friends Pam and Jen. Work colleagues 20 years ago, long ago we each moved on to other endeavors, now living in different parts of the U.S. and leading distinct lives. Pam is retired, enjoying the travel and comforts she’s earned after a successful career as an executive in corporate advertising and marketing. Jen still works in marketing, while I’m self-employed as an author. Jen and I are dog people, while Pam is indifferent to animals and has an intense fear of cats. Pam is Muslim, Jen is Jewish, and I am Christian. Differences in religious beliefs, race, age, geography, day-to-day interests, and backgrounds are honored–through genuine inquiry and sometimes gentle teasing. We’re unique people, and still there’s no sense of “othering” between us. Our friendship–full of mutual respect, laughter, girls’ getaways, and play–continuously reminds me of Proverbs 27:9: “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”
Listening to the Stories of Others
As I write this, I’m basking in the afterglow of meeting in-person with eight other adoptees for the first time. We’ve been meeting online in writing groups–some of us for as long as a year-and-a-half throughout the Covid pandemic. We hail from various corners of the world, and while each of our stories are unique, we share similar wounds from relinquishment and adoption–sometimes from physical, emotional, and spiritual abuses, too. Our trauma, and a desire to heal through expressing our emotions in words, has bonded us. I believe that’s because when we share our very personal writing, we’re known to each other in deep and profound ways that echo the knowing of others that we’ll experience in the afterlife. It’s also never lost on me that as we pour out our hearts on the page, and listen to each other’s stories with rapt attention and empathy that normalizes our life experiences, we get closer and closer to the heavenly promise of having our tears wiped away. Tonight, as we hugged and laughed and drank and dined together, I felt the joy and peace that our souls hunger for–perhaps because it abounds in heaven.
Other friendships that offer windows into heaven include relationships with people many years my senior as well as my junior. In my youth, I sought friendships with like-minded, similarly aged peers. But I’ve learned that variation in age and beliefs is an extraordinary opportunity for perspective, mentorship, and life wisdom–just as the disciples found in their friendship with Jesus.
As I ponder my friendships, I realize I’m leaving out a lot of friends and kinds of friendships–long-time close friends I chat with several times a week, even in this texting age; friends I can go months without speaking to and pick back up to continue right where we left off; my sister and cousin–just as much close friends as family; friends I’ve met in a work context who’ve become dear friends; and friends I’ve met online, where over time our interactions have led to genuine caring and love. I’ve been blessed with many friends in my life, and their presence is a reminder that God is good.
What’s more, I’ve been blessed with friendship diversity on a spiritual front. Several of my friends are atheists. Many of my friends embrace other religious traditions, seeking meaning in ways that differ from mine. Some of those close to me eschew Christianity for its links to colonialism, racism, nationalism, and exceptionalism. For the record, I’m not okay with these deeply rooted problems, either. But I am absolutely okay sharing friendship with people of different faiths and beliefs–not to convert them into my way of thinking, but to see and know them and be seen and known in return.
Each and every one of us is created in God’s image, and we’re meant to love one another as Jesus loves us. When we feel this reciprocal love in our friendships, even in the midst of differences, we know we’re experiencing a glimmer. We know we are one step closer to heaven on earth.