A place prepared
A new house is being built on the empty lot two doors down. If we were still in Massachusetts, the construction process would be considerably different from what's been happening here. First, there'd be a pretty good chance dynamite would be involved. Blasting rock to dig a foundation is not unusual in the Bay State, but it's completely unnecessary in the Bayou. The basement would go in first, then the frame for walls and roof would rise above it. But nobody has a basement here. Even graves are often built above ground rather than dug below it.
The water table near the mighty Mississippi is high, so high that buildings here don't really "settle" over time; the ground beneath them sinks. That's why New Orleans potholes never seem to get fixed (although they do get decorated!), and why the first stages of construction here involve a considerable amount of site preparation. Fill dirt and sand were trucked in, spread, and graded to direct water away from the future home. Then the pile driver arrived, and dozens of telephone poles were hammered into the soft earth without much difficulty or noise. I can't imagine being able to drive something that large more than a few feet deep in New England without significant effort and great expense. The slab foundation is being framed and will soon be poured. Once the concrete is set, the walls will start to go up.
We work hard to make a place for ourselves, and that's not limited to building houses. That's because it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to get established. Finding a place to live, getting an education, earning a living, raising a family, and creating a network of relationships: none of these is easy. So, we clear the land, blast through rock if we need to, or drive in the pilings that will support us through life. We lay the foundations and build a place that's ours, one we call home.
But Jesus promised us something entirely different. The messiah we follow is the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head. (See Matthew 8:20.) He cautioned his disciples against the expectation that they would find a way to fit in. "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (Jn 15:19). And yet, he also told his disciples that there are many dwelling places in the Father's house. He reassured them that he would soon go back to the Father to prepare a place for them so that where he was, they also might be. (See John 14:2-3.)
Those promises aren't just for a group of Galileans 2,000 years ago. They are for every baptized Christian, everyone who has followed Jesus over the centuries. Our eternal inheritance isn't something we need to prepare or build. It is something only God can give us -- but not here. And sometimes, we forget that our home is in heaven. The only things God prepares for us here are good works. As the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, "We are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them" (Eph 2:10).
It's hard to set our hearts on heaven while both of our feet are planted here on earth. But that is what Jesus asks of us. He knows that we will be truly free only when we stop worrying about our lives. He knows that our eternal happiness can begin only when we remember that we are pilgrims in exile and stop striving to build places for ourselves in a world where we will never belong.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.