2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

This week one of my students presented a case of an 89 year old single woman who used to live alone but had recently fallen and was thus temporarily recovering in an assisted living facility. She had never married or had children and the majority of her life had been spent being the caretaker for other family members (who were now mostly deceased).

When my student came to visit her, she was withdrawn and resisted any attempts to engage in the activities of the facility.  For example, even though she liked to knit, she refused to join the small knitting circle that was available.  The doctors were considering giving her anti-depressants. The lady said that all she wanted to do was look out the window, watch the birds, and wait to go to heaven (she was a strong believer).

The question for our group was whether this lady needed to “perk up” or gain some kind of purpose for what remained of her life or whether she might need a psychiatric consult with the idea of administering medications. On the other hand, after a life of eight decades of service and anticipation of glory, I wondered if she had not earned the right to restrict her activity to bird watching and thinking of heaven. Of course, this woman may indeed be depressed. She may have years more to live and how will she spend it? Is she exempt from the mandate to love God and love others?

Listening to this case reminded me of Romans 8: 18-23 which speaks of the groaning that all creation endures. In this text, groaning is viewed as a sad but appropriate response to living in a hostile environment. And whether any one of us currently have much to groan about circumstantially or not, heaven still seems to be the preferred option at least to the Apostle Paul who, given the choice, would choose to be with the Lord (Phil. 1: 23). 

I wonder if many of us don’t give heaven much thought because we are so focused on this life.  Death of someone close or our own impending death can intrude and dislodge that thinking. Suddenly we are reminded that there is so much more to this life than this life. So what is a clinically healthy view of heaven, both for this lady and for me?

I don’t know all the answers but if I live to be 80 or 90 years old and my taste for heaven is sharpening, I may not want to knit either.  

 
Bryan N. Maier, Psy.D. is Associate Professor of Counseling at Biblical Seminary.

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