Farther up on the trail, somewhere amid the steep rock face, my two companions trekked together at a steady pace. I had fallen behind somewhere around 13,000 feet above sea level. Due to the altitude, every 10 steps forced me to stop for breath. I was alone and exhausted, next to a stream of travelers on pilgrimage to the summit. I wondered whether it was really worth it to continue.
But I had vowed to climb the mountain that day, and I knew there wouldn’t be another chance this summer. Occasionally my two companions ahead would appear above me as small moving figures. Slow and stumbling, I couldn’t muster the strength to catch up. I gritted my teeth. Maybe they were too far to catch, but I could still meet them at the top. I couldn’t give up if they were about to reach the summit. My pride kept me climbing, one jagged rock at a time.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
At church the day after summiting the mountain, the pastor asked, “When was the last time you thought of heaven?”
I could remember exactly when. I was racing down the mountain with my friends. Hail pelted down on us like gravel thrown by a temperamental child. We could hear thunder but didn’t dare stop to see if there was lightning. We all prayed out loud for safety.
“Dear God, get us down from here,” I gasped, trying to move quickly without slipping on the wet rocks. “Rescue us, Lord. I don’t want to go home yet. I don’t want to go home yet.”
“Do you know what it is to groan?” the pastor asked.
I smirked. My whole body was groaning. It had started groaning well before the summit.
The pastor said a groan is a yearning and longing. It comes from an unsettled place where there is no relief. He said all of creation groans for relief from the present suffering. All of creation longs for heaven. “Do you groan for heaven?” he asked. “Or are you looking down instead of looking up?”
“I don’t want to go home yet.” The words echoed in my ears like a plea of guilt. I had groaned to reach the top of that mountain, but when I headed back down, I wanted desperately to return to the base, even more so than to return to my Father in heaven. I wanted to get down, not up. I even asked him to leave me here.
The truth is I am all too content down here. I breathe easy at this low altitude. It’s more natural for me to visualize reaching a mountain peak, and groan to get there, than to do the same for heaven.
But when I reached the summit, the pain in my body disappeared. I forgot that I was tired. The view stretched out in front of me like a Thanksgiving feast laid on the family table. Between that and my friends again at my side, I was too distracted to care about the ordeal it took to get there.
That’s how I imagine heaven. Revelation 21:3-4 says heaven will mean death and pain have ended and God has come to live with his people. We will be reunited and never again groan. With that to look forward to, why would I settle for sitting in the rocks alone, trying to catch my breath? Why do I look down at the dirt rather than anticipate celebrating with friends as we finally admire the view?