Store Your Treasures in Heaven

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
- Matthew 6:19-20

Moth and rust are not intimidating to our modern treasures. We store pieces of cedar in closets and drawers to defend our sweaters, buy rust-resistant patio furniture to protect our comfortable backyards. But in the time this verse was written, I imagine a context where such things would be devastating. I picture a family who has grown a harvest of fibers, done the careful work of reaping and separating, spinning those fibers together into strands which are then woven together with care by skillful, hard-working hands. Perhaps a mother went to lay a blanket on her child to keep her warm on a cold night, only to find that moths had eaten holes into the cloth, destroying all her effort. I imagine a man going to reap the harvest their family has planted with blood, sweat and tears, only to find that the scythe has rusted into an unusable instrument unable to bring them food or sustenance. Or worse, I picture the cry in the night of an invading horde, and as the father reaches for his sword to defend his family, he finds only a rusty blade that will break upon first impact. Even seemingly small losses in this world can have a huge impact on our lives.

Moth and rust destroy objects, which fortunately can be replaced. But when the loss comes in the form of a person’s absence, either by death or circumstance, the impact is far more powerful.

A few years ago, some dear friends of ours entered into the uniquely challenging ministry of foster care. They welcomed a few children into their home, whom I and the rest of our community have come to love very dearly. Recently, one of those children was placed back with her biological family, for what we assume will be her permanent living situation from now on. We had been blessed with her presence for over a year, and she truly felt like family. We’d always known that it was possible that she would leave, but secretly hoped we would never have to say goodbye. Knowing that the punch was coming did nothing to remove the sting of the blow.

It is bittersweet. Of course we are grateful for the time spent with her and the memories made. Of course we are grateful that her family cared enough about her to put in the time and effort to get her. Of course we rejoice with her that she now has a permanent home situation. But none of that takes away the pain of the fact that her permanent home isn’t with “us” - that is, within our community. And with her family being many miles away, there is a chance we may never get to see her again.

Our friends’ sadness is expected, her foster parents who fought the good fight of helping this child to eat healthy food, brush her teeth properly, and sleep through the night. They weathered meltdowns and taught her to be patient and kind with her little sister. They modeled and taught the Gospel over and over again as they laid the foundation of her faith and her understanding about an eternal God. It would be impossible to describe the millions of moments of time and effort that poured forth from their hearts into this child whom they love. My heart aches for them.

What I did not expect was the depth of my own sadness. She’s not my daughter, she’s not even my foster daughter. She’s my friends’ foster daughter. Friends of mine who are foster parents have expressed the saddening frustration at their lack of significance in the context of a courtroom. Although they are the closest ones to the children, feeding and clothing them, wiping away their tears, foster parents often have no say in the outcome of a child’s placement. They are the hopeful and unendingly sacrificial caregivers, some of the most important people and yet somehow the least in the eyes of a judge. So if foster parents are sadly already the least in the hierarchy, what does that make me? I feel selfish even asking, yet still the question is there.

I am non-existent to the court, less than nothing to her biological family. Yet somehow, by God’s grace, I’m something to her. I’m a friendly face who knows her name and greets her whenever I see her. I’m a bathtime here, a bedtime story there. I’m a ride home from school, and a purple star drawn next to the neatest letters written on her kindergarten homework. I’m a teacher of big words like “hospitable”, and how to draw a Star of David. I’m a coloring page in a book, a memory of an Easter-egg hunt, a part of a family that worships a God who once was foreign to her but now is familiar. I am one piece in the complex puzzle of her life, and I am grateful.

Maybe you were a piece of her puzzle, too. Maybe you were another friendly face that greeted her and laughed with her. Maybe it was your child who played with her and made her feel welcome. Maybe you were a teacher on Sunday, asking thought-provoking questions and nurturing the soil of her seedling of faith. Maybe you were a camp counselor who ran after her and played hide-and-seek with her, sang her a song about how she’s not forgotten. Maybe you were present at our church - another person whose life and love testified to her that the life and love of Jesus are real, too. And even if you never met her, there’s a good chance that you have been that role model, encourager, protector, or teacher to another person, child or otherwise, over the course of your life. If you have ever endeavored to love someone in any of these ways, know that you mattered in that person’s life in a way that we will never fully understand this side of heaven.

While we process our own role in this child’s story, we also consider those who had first experienced loss - her biological parents. We pray for God’s redemptive work in their lives, and for comfort for them. Because regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs, it is indescribably painful when a child is ripped out of your life.

Our God knows this well.

The Father, the Son, and the Spirit have lived in perfect unity since eternity past. Their relationship is whole and completely perfect, the only such relationship that exists. They are truly one (John 10:30). The love that we feel for our children on earth is but the tiniest fraction of the love that the Father has for his only Son. And yet, the Father willingly separated himself from his precious Son, even allowing him to die, so that his other beloved children who were ripped away by sin could have a way to come back home to him forever.

Mercifully, by the saving work of Christ, it is not just the heartache of facing our own mortality that God offers us salvation from, but the heart-shattering experience of permanently losing ones we love. There will be people on earth who will come in and out of our lives for various reasons. But for those we love who believe in Christ, we will experience the joy of reunification with them in heaven, where we will together enjoy being in the presence of our greatest Treasure forever. In as much as we share Jesus, we share the hope of eternal life in the place where neither moth nor rust destroy. Where thieves cannot break in and steal. Where cancer and disease cannot spread. Where no government agency can take away. Where sadness is just a memory from a broken world that a good God redeemed.

As we’ve been going into the book of Ecclesiastes, the futility of life has been on my mind. If there is no one over the sun, then all that we are and all that we love will be lost forever without meaning. If there is no God, then there is neither hope nor future, neither love nor purpose. But because there is a God, because there is someone over the sun and over all things, our lives, our fight, our tears, and our trials are not in vain. Strive for the heavenly treasure, brothers and sisters, for it is the only treasure that you have any surety to keep.

Precious little girl, we did not get to keep you for as long as we would have liked. As another wise sister told me, there will never be enough time with you, and that’s okay. God has a hope and a future planned for you. Hold fast to Jesus, little one, and your future will always be connected with ours.

Always remember that Jesus Christ is a person! He’s the person who died for you so that you could have full life. He’s the person who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He’s the person who makes us all a part of God’s own family. And He’s the person who is preparing a room for you - yes, you! - in heaven, where all of God’s children are safe and sound, and most importantly, together with him forever.