Today is my little girl’s birthday. Only, she’s not a little girl any more. She’s a young woman, a year away from university graduation. Two days ago a young man asked her to marry him, and she accepted.
Bethany’s birthday is one day before mine, and I remember thinking when she was born that by the time she was grown up I would be sixty. At the time, that seemed an impossibly long time in the future, but here we are. I turn sixty-one tomorrow, and Bethany is now twenty-two years old, and looking forward to a wedding.
The engagement was not a surprise; Marion and I have known for months that this day would be coming soon, and we are delighted. Still, Bethany’s engagement is a sign of the shifting of the seasons. She is the youngest of my children, my only daughter, the only one of our children who still lives with us, and the last to get married. Soon the transition to the next generation will be complete.
A few weeks ago, my oldest granddaughter turned five. Although Marion and I weren’t able to make the trip to Kansas City for her birthday, we Skyped as she was opening some of her presents. She had been excited about her birthday for weeks in advance, and as young children tend to do, she was fully enjoying the moment.
A couple of days after Sophie’s birthday, I had a very significant dream. I had been reading Song of Songs every day for several weeks, seeking to appropriate the rich Biblical metaphor of the love relationship between Jesus and his bride. As a male, I used to find this image hard to relate to, but having a daughter who loves weddings has helped to change my perspective. God used a dream to open up this profound truth for me in a fresh way.
The dream featured two young women – my five year old granddaughter and my twenty-one year old daughter. I knew that God was using them to speak to me about my own life, and the life of every believer in Jesus.
In Scene One, I saw an image of Sophie on her birthday. She was fully occupied with her gifts and was delighting in the pleasures of a happy childhood. The scene then shifted to an image of Bethany. At the time that I had this dream, she was not yet engaged, but somehow I knew that she was thinking about her upcoming wedding.
As I considered the fact that Bethany would soon be married, I began thinking about my own marriage, and about Jesus’ teaching that there would be no marriage at the resurrection. This has always seemed odd to me. I have been married to the same woman for almost thirty-eight years now. What will it be like to meet her at the resurrection and no longer be married to her?
Then I woke up. When I asked the Spirit about the dream, this is what He showed me.
Sophie is going to grow up and become an adult, but at the moment she could not even begin to comprehend the various issues and realities that she will deal with as an adult. She is fully occupied with being a child. She may believe that she will become an adult, but she has almost no conception of what this will be like. Although she may imagine it at times, and imitate her Mom, her imaginary games are far from the reality.
Bethany has been coming to understand some of the realities of adulthood over the past few years. She loves little children, she enjoys playing with Sophie, and she can still enjoy the memory of being five, but she has no desire to go back. She is looking forward to a wedding and the life of a bride that will follow, and that is her focus now, not her former life as a five year old.
In the same way, it seems strange to you now to think that in the age to come, there will be no marriage as we know it now. You know you are the bride of Christ but it is hard for you to imagine what this will be like. The present reality of marriage is only an analogy for what is to come – a dim image, a shadow. It is important now, just as Sophie’s five year old life is important to her now, but in the future it will be only a memory. Right now you cannot really imagine the marriage supper of the Lamb, or life in the age to come, though you believe these things are coming. But when you get there, you will look back and remember what it was like in this age, but you will have absolutely no regrets. Press on for the hope of your calling.
This dream has had a powerful motivating impact on me over the last few weeks. It has helped me keep my focus on what God has in store, not only in this age but in the age to come. If our horizon is limited to this life, it is hard to stay motivated as we grow older because pain and death are all we have to look forward to. But God has made us for eternity. What we see now is only a shadow of what is to come. Our hope is not that we are going to heaven. Of course if we die before Jesus returns, we will be with Him while we are waiting, but our hope is far better than that. Our hope is that He will return to restore all things, and that we will live with Him on a fully renewed earth.
These things are hard for us to grasp fully. Like five-year-old Sophie pretending to be a grownup and imagining her own wedding, we have only glimpses of what it will be like. It is natural that our life in this age is important to us now, as Sophie’s five-year-old life is important to her now. God wants us to live that life to the full, but it is not all there is. He has much bigger and more glorious things in store for us in the age to come.