Saturday, June 10, 2017

What Are You Working For?

I’ve noted before that my life seems to move through phases.  I’ve seen that some phases have very definable ends, like my forced retirement or mom’s death.  And, if we are faithful Christians and we see a phase of our life approaching to an end --- or if we perceive one needs to, or an end is about to happen --- we should turn at that point to God in prayer: “What now, Lord?  What’s next for me?  Show me Your will.”.  And it’s been my experience that those prayers will be often answered in ways that we can perceive, sometimes very clearly.  We usually don’t know our future, so this praying to God to show us the next phase of our life and how we should live it is a good thing, for then we can prepare and participate in being the person who God made us to be, in this coming phase of our life.
But what if we don’t need to pray for wisdom, but already know what is a coming phase?
We sometimes think we know the coming phases of our lives, and make plans for them.  We go to college to prepare for a career or vocation.  We go to marriage prep classes.  We take classes on raising children.  We take seminars on preparing for retirement.  And yes, we attend mass and retreats, seminars and bible study groups to know better who God is and how He’d like us to live our lives.  All these things prepare us for our future, our future phases of life.  We plan for the future even the unknown, when we pray to God.
It seems to me we naturally plan for these future phases of our life because we want them to be happy phases.  We want to live life right:  good job, good marriage, nice kids, and a happy retirement.  But what are we forgetting?
There is, I believe, a future phase of our life that we know is coming, but for some reason few of us really focus on preparing for it.  That future phase is eternity, which comes upon us with a most sudden event in our life:  we die.  It seems we plan for so many other phases of our life; we spend years on some of those plans.  Why aren’t we more focused on eternity?  We will live in that phase of our life for a very long time, indeed.
In John 17, Jesus says to the Father: “I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, … so that the love with which You love Me may be in them.”  God wants us united in love with Him in heaven for all eternity!  How should we prepare to be united to Him?
I’ve been retired 10 years now.  It is a great blessing to have had these years.  I saw God’s purpose for me in most of those years --- caring for mom.  But what if there are another 10 or 20 years?  Unlike many who see retirement years as years for rest or travel or fun, I can now see retirement in a different light.
I worked many years so I could be free from financial worries in my retirement years, because now in those years I see I have a different work to do.  I must spend time preparing for the next big phase of my life, the eternal phase.  Now, I know that is something we should be preparing for all our life --- death can come suddenly, but in my retirement years I have time when I can really focus on that next phase.  These years are what I have been working for up to now.
So, how does one work in preparation for death?  First, let me say that all the usual things, like having a will, insurance, yadda-yadda, are NOT preparing for your death.  Those things are helping to prepare the lives of your heirs for when you have moved on.  No, the important preparation for death is realizing what eternity is:  a time of being totally with God.  So how do you prepare for that?
Well, being one with God sounds like something akin to marriage.  How do you prepare to marry someone?  Well, in short, you make sure you know that person, very well.  No difference here, only eternity is forever, a much longer time commitment than marriage, so it stands to reason that you need much more preparation. 
I’m now using my retirement years to better know God.  I read His word and study its meaning, often with the help of others.  I visit Him often in His house --- the number of hours we spend together now really aren’t much compared to eternity.  And we talk.  And I’d like to think I am getting to know Him better, and am in a kind of engagement phase where we spend a lot of time together, and focus on doing things for each other.  I try to focus on things He has told me please Him, like telling Him I love Him, and showing that I listened to and respected His words by loving my neighbors.  Loving my neighbor better is now a big focus of my life.
Those words I just wrote, really are easier written than done.  Love, unconditional love, is not an easy thing.  You grow into it.  You practice.  You come to learn loving, --- everyone.  And I’d like to think I’m making some progress, and that sometimes I perceive He tells me so.
It’s a good plan for retirement, to spend it learning how to love God.  And, I guess you know if you’ve learned it well if you sometimes find yourself yearning for that next phase to begin. 
Meanwhile, it’s definitely something worth working for, working to fit in heaven.  And it’s worth working for even before retirement.  It’s a big, and important, job.
. . . . . . . . . .
“Though this life is a mere blip amid the vastness of eternity, it has one major purpose for God:  to have us choose the fundamental identity that will follow us into eternity and determine the kind of eternity we will experience….  Assent to God requires a movement of the heart, a desire to open ourselves to a supreme Being beyond ourselves…. The necessity of a movement of the heart --- and act of the will, a leap of faith or belief --- is by God’s own design.  Recall the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov that God would not “enslave man with a miracle.”
                                  - The Light Shines on in The Darkness, by Robert Spitzer,
I just read those words this week, and I couldn’t have summarized my thoughts better:  God won’t force us to choose heaven; it is an act of our will to choose --- and to prepare to immerse ourselves into the full joy of our choice.  It’s worth working for our whole life, but certainly as a focus of our work in retirement.

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