A few years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to run a marathon. I started a training program and ran and ran for five months straight – long runs on the weekends and short runs during the week. When the big day came I was bursting with energy and practically biting at the bit to take on the 26.2-mile challenge. After so much training, I was in the best shape of my life.
I went to the starting line with the idea of sticking to a pace of 9 minutes per mile, but since I felt so great, I allowed my enthusiasm to get the better of me and I committed the most typical mistake of first-time marathoners: I started way too fast. I was knocking out 8-minute mile after 8-minute mile and things seemed just fine…until mile 18 when I hit the wall hard. My legs cramped, my vision blurred, and my head felt light. Eight-minute miles became 9 minutes and then 10 minutes and finally 11 minutes. I was hurting. The only thing that kept me going was thinking about the finish line. When I finally hobbled across and received my medal and a cold Gatorade, I felt like I was in Paradise.
Focusing on the Finish
If life is like a marathon, Heaven is the finish line. Life is tough and we will doubtlessly hit the wall numerous times during the course of our earthly existence, but if we keep our eyes on the goal, one day we will be able to say with St. Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)
To keep our eyes on Heaven, we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are pilgrims on a journey, and we have to keep in mind that goodness of our life on Earth is just a preview of what is to come.
This is easier said than done since it is so easy to get entirely caught up and engrossed in the here and now. When I was in that last stretch of the marathon, it was very hard to stay focused on the finish line because I was caught up in the suffering of my rebelling body. My whole world seemed to be comprised of cramps and sore feet, so it was all that I could do to keep my mind focused on the goal, which seemed so far away no matter how much closer I got.
The water breaks were what helped me stay focused. Every mile or so a table would appear on the horizon with smiling volunteers handing out cups of cold Gatorade. I would walk through those water stops, enjoying the cool drink and re-motivating myself to make it to the finish. If I had tried to push through those stops, I certainly would have collapsed. Each water break was a little taste of the finish that provided me with the mental energy that I needed to keep going.
In life, breaks are essential. If we allow ourselves to be engulfed in the more unpleasant aspects of our earthly existence (work for instance) and if we just try to soldier onward without resting, we will eventually collapse, physically or emotionally or both.
It is crucial that we allow ourselves times to taste and savor the goodness that awaits us; we must allow ourselves the leisure to detach from the mundane activities that consume us and do things that are more heavenly. We need to be free to contemplate what is to come.
To be Heaven-oriented is to be beauty-oriented, so it is indispensable that we take time to contemplate beauty. Beautiful music, beautiful art, beautiful cinematography, beautiful nature: all of the finer things of life are essential for helping us remember the finest things that are yet to come. Contemplatively walking through the woods, visiting an art exhibit, or listening to a symphony are all examples of things we can do to contemplate beauty and orient ourselves towards Heaven.
It is also very important to remember that leisure is not just about regaining energy in order to go back to work: rather, leisure is about re-focusing on our final destination, on what we were really made for. We should dedicate at least part of our evenings, weekends, and vacations to remind ourselves of the beauty to come. We should use these times to remember that we are spiritual beings en route to something incredibly awesome.
“Eye Has not Seen”
We cannot imagine the beauty of Heaven, but the beauty of this world foreshadows it. When we encounter beauty, like that of a gorgeous sunrise or a moving symphony, we are touched and our hearts are tugged; a desire for something more is aroused. As C.S. Lewis puts it:
We do not merely want to see beauty…We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty that we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it…When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.
The beauty of this world is but a faint reminder of what awaits us.
When things get tough and stress accumulates, take a moment to disconnect and remember the beauty that is waiting for you. The more you take time to think of Heaven, the more you will find yourself at peace.