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How Do You Know If Heaven Is Real?

“How do you know heaven is real?” began the latest grand inquisition by my 8-year-old son. 

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“Well,” I stuttered and stammered, “we don’t know that it is not real – let’s begin there. No one has ever proven that heaven does not exist, so definitively speaking, we cannot prove that it does, save the accounts of those who have experienced near death and said they saw it. And that, my dear, is the entire foundation of the concept of faith. Faith is a belief in what we feel and accept, rather than what we can see and prove.” Sidenote: I do not have a degree in theology and am not interested in debating “proof.” I’m not even a cool mom. Just a regular mom trying to teach my kids how to be decent humans. And goodbye.

I am thankful for his inquisitions because they always challenge me on topics that would otherwise float around in the ether. The older I get, the less curiosity dominates my mind and basic survival rules the day. 

For example, peak curiosity for this 47-year-old is “How many steps would I need to suffer to eat this chicken sandwich.” Pathetic, but true. 

His inquiry about heaven was followed by the melancholy wondering about the potential of gravity to simply disappear. Imagine the existential crisis in the mind of a child visualizing our bodies lifting from the earth’s surface and floating (er, catapulting) toward the atmosphere. Yikes. Ground Control to Major Anybody.

I watched his young forehead and eyebrows furl and flex in the rearview mirror and I ironically grew anxious over his worried mind. It’s no wonder his mind goes to the big things, he’s been through a lot in his 8 years. Social media, television, world events, illness, accidents, family trauma, and busy adults, can all open a “premature reality portal” that gives way to big thoughts and even bigger worries.

Usually, we worry over things we are completely helpless to solve or overcome. Although I have been prone to worry in the past, I’ve been guided by optimism and faith that carries me over the bridge of worry. My optimism and faith don’t evaporate the rapids of life below, but simply lift me above them and give me a path safely forward. Without this solid bridge, I’d simply fall in and be swept away. 

What helped me construct a bridge of optimism and faith? Connections with people.

The reality is that our children are part of the most anxious generation in history. It’s hard to believe with all the atrocities that have happened in generations past, that these children would be more anxious than them. So, why is it? 

Just as I am not a theologian, I am also not a sociologist, but the word that continues to be at the front of my mind is connection. Real, meaningful, in-person connection. 

As I thought about my own son’s worry, I also thought about a horrible tragedy that happened near my hometown when a gunman opened fire on a small-town grocery store last week killing four and injuring nearly a dozen more. This is extremely oversimplified, but it was his lack of connection to God or humanity (or psychiatric care) that created such a scenario for this madman to unleash. And it will be the community’s connection to one another that will help them heal and move the slightest bit forward. 

There isn’t a word more Southern than connection. We Southerners love to visit, catch up, porch sit, and shoot the bull. But it isn’t just a Southern thing. Once on a visit to San Francisco, I observed some elders meeting in a park in Chinatown to play games and visit. I was told they did it every day at the same time, a piece of their culture brought from home. 

In the old days, there was no Internet shopping or DoorDash, so people congregated in town squares and cafes for entertainment and daily newsgathering. As technology has advanced, we’ve become more isolated and socially lazy. Our homes are big (by world standards), cozy, and connected…to the Internet, but maybe not to each other. Because of it, we no longer have small, seemingly insignificant connections with neighbors and strangers. Have we underestimated the power of small, daily interactions to boost our mood and keep us connected? Are these the key to building empathy and creating global connections?

I am thankful that technology has advanced to the point that the homebound are served well, that we are better equipped to handle logistical challenges, and so much more. But we must be careful that we calculate the cost equitably. Technology will not moderate human connection for us – this is something we must do for ourselves. It will require something we don’t often use: intentionality and restraint. 

So, this is your encouragement to sit on your porch, invite neighbors for a potluck, wander your local farmer’s market, and meet your friends at a coffee shop instead of (gasp) sending memes all day. Take your children with you. Teach them how to enjoy the art of visiting, creating their entertainment, and interacting with all ages. Modeling is the greatest parent after all. 

Throw the Pinterest board away and bring potluck in a bowl that isn’t fancy or spontaneously meet at a casual restaurant with thoughts of your connection and not of your outfit. Invest in connections with people you love and make new ones with people you don’t. 

Besides, when we lose gravity and float off to heaven, we’ll be better prepared to do it together. 

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.