Without context, this sounds unremarkable: I’ve dreamt every night this week. I’m sure millions of people dream every night. But because I can count on one hand the number of dreams I’ve had in the past few years, this week of dreams is unusual. Dreams are strange. No one really knows why we dream or what, if anything, they mean. Dreams may provide some insight into how we think and what’s on our heart, but most of the time dreams don’t tell us much of anything. But every so often, a dream is a real blessing.
I’ve had a week of blessings. Friends who have been separated from me- through distance, disagreements, or death- have visited me in my dreams this week. The dreams follow a similar script: I walk into a room and see an old familiar face. We look at each other for a moment before erupting into laughter as we embrace. We excitedly share everything that’s happened in our life as though we would burst if we kept these things in any longer. The exhilaration and the urgency to share everything that has happened in our lives reminded me of how C.S. Lewis described heaven in The Problem of Pain:
Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell the others- fresh and ever fresh news of the ‘My God’ whom each finds in Him whom all praise as ‘Our God.’ For doubtless the continually successful, yet never complete, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision to all others (and that by means whereof art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations) is also among the ends for which the individual was created.
Now, if these reunions had taken place in heaven, I’m sure we would have focused on more lofty things than what we discussed in my dreams. But, I believe the emotions felt in the reunion are glimpses of what will be experienced in heaven. C.S. Lewis conjectured that each soul in heaven will express one aspect of God better than any other, providing something new and unique to heaven. The eternal revelation and discovery of God will be so thrilling we won’t be able to keep it to ourselves. Heaven will be a continual sharing of our experience of God with others.
We can’t fathom what constant, perfect union with God and others for all eternity will be like, since it doesn’t exist here. Not only will our love be more intense and pure than it ever could be here, but there will be no pain associated with love. There will be no sting of rejection, no more tears of parting, no more harsh words, no more misunderstandings, no more awkwardness, no more unrequited affection, no more risk. Authentic love is intertwined with pain because it requires sacrifice. Besides that, even in the closest relationships, whether we intend to or not, hurting one another is inevitable. We are imperfect people who love imperfectly, and imperfect love hurts:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken… The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Because love cannot be forced but only given freely, there is no guarantee the person you love will respond with the same intensity or in the way you would hope. Even the best relationships are subject to the “secret from which one never quite recovers”:
“Even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.” –The Bridge of San Luis Rey
This imperfection in relationships is painful. Because we are created in the image of God, we remind each other of God, whether we are conscious of this or not. But, because none of us are God, trying to put someone in God’s place leads to dissatisfaction and loneliness in our relationships. Flannery O’Connor expressed this frustration in her prayer journal, “I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God.”
St. Therese said she “found only bitterness” in her friendships here on earth. She considered that to be a blessing because it prevented her from putting another person in God’s place. Through the pain of being misunderstood she came to realize that only God could understand her and meet her desires.
My sensitive and loving heart would have easily given itself away if it had found another heart capable of understanding it. How I thank Jesus for making me find only ‘bitterness in the friendships of this world’ … How can a heart that is given over to the affection of created beings be intimately united with God?
In heaven, our relationships with God and each other will be perfectly ordered. We will love each other more intensely, but in a way that only serves to deepen our love of God. There will be no more loneliness in relationships, since our loneliness on earth is due to our separation from the One we were created for. Since we will be in constant union with God in heaven, loneliness will be impossible.
Every person I saw in my dreams this week is someone who I have no hope of seeing again in this life. It seems to me that most friendships are meant to last for only a season in life, and a lifelong friendship is a rare blessing. The joy I felt in the dreams is only a taste of the joyful heavenly reunion. Not only will we meet again, but in heaven, we will have all eternity to repair and perfect our relationships. To be reunited with and to be reconciled with those who have left me in bitterness helps dull the sting of separation. It’s comforting to know that no matter how badly we may have failed in a relationship, it has a chance to be redeemed. All our shortcomings in relationship, all the hurts we’ve caused others, will one day be rectified, if not in this life then in the next. “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5)
Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when I think about all the things people have done for me throughout my life – things that I didn’t deserve and can’t ever repay done by people who I never had a chance to properly thank. I’m sure there are many others who have done things for me, such as prayers and sacrifices, that I won’t know about until heaven. St. Therese expressed similar feelings in her autobiography, and drew comfort in the hope that all things will be made new in heaven:
I was like an idiot… no one ever caused you as much trouble as I, and no one ever received as much love as you bestowed on me. Happily, I shall have heaven to avenge myself, for my Spouse is very rich and I shall draw from His treasure of love to repay you a hundredfold for all you suffered on my account.
Writing about this is difficult because I fear when I talk about heaven like this that it can be interpreted as a kind of fatalism: The world is broken, and this isn’t my true home anyway, so improving it is a waste of time. Friends come and go, so why bother having any now when I can make as my heart desires in heaven? Why bother trying to repair damaged relationships if they’ll be repaired effortlessly in heaven?
I am not saying that friendship on earth is unimportant, or that holiness means friendlessness, or that we shouldn’t work hard to repair, maintain, and deepen our relationships with others. One reason the dreams I had were such a blessing was because it reminded me of the hope I have that relationships that are irreparable in this life can be repaired in the next. I believe that friendship is one of God’s greatest gifts and one of the best ways He makes His love for us tangible. The friendships we make here on earth will affect how we experience heaven. The deeper our relationships with people here on earth, the more people we impact, the sweeter heaven will be.
And though they are all joined in the bond of charity, they know a special kind of sharing with those whom they loved most closely with a special love in the world, a love through which they grew in grace and virtue…So now in everlasting life they have not lost that love; no, they still love and share with each other even more closely and fully, adding their love to the good of all
(Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena)
This life is just brief stop along the way to our eternal home. We should do what we can to improve life here and to be a friend to others, keeping in mind that our purpose is to reach eternal union with God and help others reach that union too. The fundamental purpose of our relationships on earth is to deepen our most important relationship: with God.
There are so many people I’ve met in this life I wish I could have a closer relationship with, but can’t for one reason or another. We may find ourselves in different places and have to focus on those obligations immediately around us. There’s only so much time, energy, and resources we’ve been given, and sadly some relationships fall to the wayside because of that. It’s comforting to know that we will have eternity to perfect the relationships we’ve started on earth: from those we were closest to, to those we were only acquainted with.
Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure forever there.
-St. Francis de Sales
Several years ago, I was waiting with one of my dear friends at the airport, who was about to leave to start a new life overseas. As we embraced to say goodbye, knowing that we were going in different directions and would have limited contact with each other, she simply said, “I’m glad there’s heaven…”