13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.
Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob. Paul lists them all and their faithful deeds like an exemplary contact list before he gets to this aside. Whenever I read this passage, I feel it in my chest, that balloon expansion as each one performs the necessary act of faith and then receives the reward. Abel offers the best sacrifice. Noah builds the boat and sees the rainbow. Sarah waits decades and has a baby. But Cain murders Abel and Noah must start from scratch on the new boggy earth and Sarah dies before she sees substantial proof of the patriarchal branch leading to the future Israelite nation. They listen to God and receive a blessing, but it is the smaller blessing. A slice of the pie.
I could read up to verse thirteen and stop there. Put a period to the happy ending. There’s so much good there. But if I’m begrudgingly honest, the rest is the best. It’s the whole pie. It’s the land we were built for where these tiny stories fit together to make a better scene. I prayed over my infertility and was blessed with Charlie and Jonas and Cora, but we also got cerebral palsy and a wheelchair and twins who must push behind rather than run beside their big brother. Big blessings with bigger wishes yet unmet.
The alien heart in me aches for the place where the three will run together. I want to see it with my own eyes. I want to hug them all while they stand on their own, heights not marked by braces or standers or stools. But I will try to be satisfied today knowing we will. The thing that keeps me praying in this world is that there is another one. If this was all there is I think I might not be able to see my way past all the unfulfilled desires and the unfairness. I might only see the wheelchair and not the boy. I might only feel the fear for my children’s future in what looks like a scarier and darker world than the fluffy one from which I hatched. But that’s not the full picture. It’s like the impressionists with their dots. You stand with your nose too close and it looks a jumbled mess. You take a few steps back and it’s a lady, a boat, a lake, a masterpiece.
I’m really trying to let these verses elicit hope rather than frustration. It does not always work. But it’s never going to work if I don’t practice. You don’t speed-walk through the museum. You sit and stare and let all that wide thinking and talent settle over you. You read every signpost steering you on to the next. You assess each piece from every angle, because each approach is different. And then you go back and visit again on another day in another mood and see even more and leave hoping that some of it rubbed off on you.