Too Good to be True?

“This is too good to be true.” 

I thought it the night my then boyfriend and I made our relationship official. I thought it at new years 2020 when we got engaged. I thought it on our wedding day. I thought it the moment I found myself in a hospital bed with our sleeping firstborn cuddled against my chest.

There are some things in life that prompt a kind of otherworldly happiness, a transcendent delight that seems somehow out of place compared to the rest of our human experience. That’s why so often we describe such things as “too good to be true”. We are natives to a world full of brokenness. Our expectation for existence itself is shaped by our rather uncomfortable familiarity with pain, disappointment, fear, guilt, grief, and conflict, among a host of other wrongnesses. It isn’t just romance that prompts such moments, but let’s use it as an example.

We are very aware that even the most amiable of earthly romances have not escaped the enevitable, tragic ending that all human relationships face, that is of separation in death. All earthly relationships, no matter how special or intense, come to an end. Even if two people proclaim their undying love for one another, and live it out, they themselves are not undying creatures, at least while they dwell on Earth. This is why we have tragic love stories, like those in the classic dramas or Shakespeare. With the existence of transcendent joys comes the potential, even inevitability of profound sorrow.

There’s something very wrong about that, though. The reason we have such phrases as “undying love” is precisely because we feel that love is something that should last, something eternal, something that doesn’t quite make sense in the context of a world full of betrayal and death. So, too good to be true? Yes, in one sense, it is. 

And yet, it is true. 

Perfect love stories untainted by sorrow are a thing only of fiction, but beautiful love stories do exist, and it begs the question why? 

I am from the eastern US, a place that at one point must have been completely forested, and even now is full of trees. I grew up walking wooded paths in all seasons, and always loved looking at the patches of sunshine that filtered through the canapy above, pooling in warm golden puddles on the forest floor. There was one particular place, a thick pine grove at the top of a steep rocky hill beside the Patapsco River, where even in brightest daytime it was always dark and full of shadows. The top of the trees had become so thick that the lower limbs were no longer living, and many of them had fallen onto the ground and tangled themselves into shrubs growing up between the trunks. The gnarled scaly branches seemed to reach out sometimes to snag clothes and hair, and crackled menacingly underfoot. 

It was not an inviting wood. I often imagined the sorts of dark-dwelling creatures that might be lurking in the underbrush. Those lovely pools of sunshine were very rare there, and were thus all the more precious to me. There, they weren’t just pretty, but a sign of hope, that light still existed somewhere beyond my gloomy surroundings. 

Things we call “too good to be true” can be like that. They point to something else, a world beyond our present reality that is full of goodness and light. As Christians, we call that place Heaven, and the source of the light is the king of Heaven, that is, Jesus. Our world is dark, and we in some ways only expect dark things because of that, but there are beautiful things because there is a beauty that exists eternally outside our realm of space and time. Like the sun glimmering through the branches of the trees, Jesus shines into our somber reality in every lovely or joyful thing we have on earth. 

So, too good to be true? No, only too good to be earthly, and it is a sign of God’s grace that we can see it. Even when the world was corrupted by our sin, God did not abandon us entirely to it. He preserves such good things out of his own goodness so that we can see him, and be lead to worship him. It is like Psalm 19, which says that the Heavens declare the glory of God. So it is that every otherworldly beauty beckons us to kneel in reverent awe of the one who made it, and when we rise to carry on, we have hope, knowing that they point to a time to come, when those things that seem “too good to be true” will be the only truth. The sun puddles of the forest will expand to engulf every bit of the wood, and there will be no more shadows. 

A Dwelling Place for Eternal Beings: Learning About Contentment in a Season of Searching

They say moving is one of the most stressful life events you can experience. I always thought that was because of the effort of physically dragging all your belongings from one place to another, and then finding yourself in a place where you may not have the same social circle you are used to and feel out of place and disorganized. Having actually moved several times since then,, though, I personally think the hardest thing about moving is all the stuff that happens before you actually start packing, that is, the house hunt. 

We’ve been on the house hunt for half a year now. I’ve found it incredibly challenging for a couple of reasons. I suppose there are the obvious difficulties, of identifying houses that fit your criteria, establishing that they are available and within your budget, visiting them, and potentially making an offer, but then there is the emotional element.

Every house we visit that seems viable, I start imagining. I envision our baby growing up there. I think about the things we might change, the furniture or decorations we might use, what we might do with the garden or shed, the opportunities we might have there to be a blessing to our church family or neighbors through hospitality. With each house, a new set of dreams is born, and each time we have to move on from that house, for one reason or another, those dreams have to die. 

As those dreams come and go, I find that I struggle more and more with contentment in our current situation. I visit a house and see that we could have a kitchen table, a bathtub, a garden, a sitting room big enough to have company, room for our daughter to crawl and toddle safely, storage (blessed, blessed storage space), etc, and naturally I am reminded that we don’t have those things right now, and it could be a while until we do. The emotions rise then, frustration, fear, doubt, and I have to reevaluate. What is really important here? Is it the convenience of a kitchen table, or the luxury of a bathtub, or is it something else? 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (Phil 4:11-12).

My husband works weekdays from our sitting room, which means my dog, my daughter, and I spend our days in our bedroom and postage stamp kitchen. Baby plays with her toys on the bed, or, if I have cooking or cleaning to do, she sits in her bouncer or plays on her mat (which covers pretty much our entire kitchen floor hahaha), and I scoot awkwardly around her to do my chores. It’s times like these that I think, man, it would be great to not have to trip over my baby in order to do my laundry.”

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16, ESV)

It was in one of these moments that the Lord stopped me in my tracks. I listened to my baby cooing as I stepped carefully around her on her mat, and was tempted as usual to dwell resentfully on the lack of space, but instead all I could think about was her. Suddenly I saw her, not just as my sweet little baby, but as an eternal soul. Her days were already laid out for her by the all-powerful God that made her, days that I was living with her even now. God planned that she should be playing on her mat in our tiny old apartment, and that I should be singing to her while I shuffled around her to do dishes and fold clothes. God planned that I should be her mother, and my husband her father, and my dog her canine pal. God planned that we should raise her up to know and love him, to teach her his ways, and God willing to prepare her for an eternity spent worshipping him in glorious daily activity in the new Heaven and new Earth. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

Joy filled my heart at that thought. I didn’t have to have a kitchen table to teach my little girl about Jesus, or to model his love to her every day. I didn’t need a bath tub to tell her what it means to be a sinner in need of forgiveness, or to share the Good News that Jesus took the wrath that we deserved and that we may have everlasting life in him.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

When I think about our apartment in the context of worldly standards, it is just a drafty, old matchbox, but when viewed in the context of eternity, it becomes a sanctum of holy joys, a place where God can be served and praised and delighted in, a place that may not be suited to comfortable dining, or entertaining any number of guests, but that is perfectly suited to entertaining the Holy Spirit, and all the work he has for us here and now as he intended from eternity past. I still look forward to moving, and I think we will still struggle from time to time with contentment regarding our housing, but I pray that every time my thoughts stray toward dissatisfaction, God would remind me once again of the incredible blessing it is to have his sovereign hand at work in our lives. Now is not a wasted season spent searching for a home while we are trapped in a cold and inconvenient living space. Now is a season that God has planned to prepare myself, my husband, and my baby for an eternity spent in the house of our Father. There is no house hunt more important than the one that ends there.