I was unprepared for the mix of emotions that would surface the night that I met JD’s parents. Panic met dread and spiraled into a desperate hunger for love that belied the affection-lavished childhood I had received. Although that spring night was not my first time to meeting the parents of a significant other, on every other occasion something always felt wrong. Despite their kindness, I always felt I was the outsider breaking into the family circle and trying to pretend I was someone who, in my heart, I felt I was not.
Tires crunched on gravel as JD pulled off the main highway onto the road that led to his family home and I exhaled slowly. He chuckled. “Nervous much?”
I flashed him a quick smile and shook my head, even though both of us knew I was lying.
“I told you, they’re gonna love you.” He had been telling me that almost once a week for the past couple of months; and then almost once every half hour during the four-hour car trip.
“So you said.” I ran my fingers through my hair one more time, inwardly groaning at the stringy, limp mass hanging by my face. I should have washed it this morning.
I followed him to the garage door, trying to match the spring in his step. He was home, but I was wishing we could both return to the car and just keep driving for another few hours. “My dad just closed the refrigerator door,” he observed, peering through the bay window into the kitchen. I barely registered the comment, my eyes sliding over the front porch that showcased a large sign advertising his father’s photography business. Brilliant yellow flowers bloomed in front of the house; and a sturdy playhouse invited attention to my right.
I had seen all of these things already—months before when I secretly clicked through pictures of JD and his family over the years. The one of JD sitting on the playhouse slide and “acting cool” had made me laugh many times; and I often felt a sense of yearning when I looked at group shots of their family wearing matching black-and-denim. It had been a long time since I had felt like I was part of a unit like that. Seeing the setting in which JD’s father had taken many of the photos I had seen gave a strange sense of familiar and unfamiliar all at once.
Sometimes I wonder if the Lord’s return to the earth or our first step into Heaven will feel like a “meet-the-parents.” Jesus said that He was going to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house, following the Jewish custom that when a man pledged to marry a woman, he would return to his father’s home and build a room for them to live there. His ascension after the Spirit of God raised Him from the dead carried a two-fold promise: He would prepare a place for us to join Him, and He would send the Holy Spirit to comfort us in the meantime.
We tend to fall into a mindset of “someday,” relegating the promise of His return to a heightened spiritual “somewhere out there” and neglecting to realize that the coming kingdom is more reality than the breath of time we have on the earth as we know it. The truth is that the God who is coming to earth will usher in a reality lasting far longer and making more sense than the hazy day-to-day of life now. Paul recognized this when he said, “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
How will it feel to finally see what we now have to believe blindly? Will it be a jarring clash of familiar and unfamiliar as we realize that we pictured a few things right and a lot of things wrong? What will we think when we meet the Father face-to-face?
The beautiful kindness of the Lord is that we have the opportunity now to prepare for what is to come. Often we fall into the deception that our current life has no bearing upon our future existence in the New Jerusalem other than that Jesus will reward us for our good deeds. Fortunately, this simply is not true. The character we build in our lives today will be the character that guides us in good decision making when we rule with Christ during the Millennial Kingdom. Notice again what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13—we will know fully, even as we are fully known. When we take on a glorified body upon the return of Jesus to the earth, we do not become entirely different people; our personalities, though refined and purified, will remain largely the same. Our friends and families will know us for who we are. And we will recognize and know them too.
When we believe that our work on earth carries over into the person we will become, then we also must believe that the time we spend learning the personality of the Lord will stay with us when we see Him. Therefore, the more we invest ourselves in discovering the fullness of who He is now, the easier our transition into His home. We do not seek to be led by the Spirit on earth simply for the power, signs, and wonders that come with a Spirit-led life. Jesus promised that these things would follow those who believed, but that cannot be our ultimate goal. Instead, we seek the Spirit’s leadership in our lives to become one with the heart of the Father.
When Jesus rebuked Satan speaking through Peter in Matthew 16, He made a distinction between the thoughts of God and those of men. “Out of my sight, Satan!” He said. “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt. 16:23). We must long to develop a hunger for the thoughts of God, to seek to know Him in a greater measure, praying like the man whom Jesus healed from blindness, “Who is he, sir? Tell me that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). The Holy Spirit comes to facilitate a divine romance, revealing to us the heart and thoughts of a God who passionately loves us. Our role is to seek Him even as He seeks us, knowing: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your hearts” (Jer. 29:13).