I remember the first time I thought I might be headed to Hell. I was a teenager. It was a Monday night and my siblings and I were all gathered around the dinner table for the interminable family night lesson. Mom was teaching about what life in heaven would be like if we would follow God’s laws and the added tenets of our religion, oh, and show our parents the proper respect. She’d already outlined what Heaven was like, paved in gold, filled with mansions, colors we couldn’t imagine, people in white clothes. Looking around the table at all my siblings in their various stages of apathy, I realized there was a large population of elementary age students that owed us a debt of gratitude. We were all that stood between our mom and an actual classroom.
“Will there be family night in Heaven?” My younger sister asked.
Mom smiled at her, “Every night is family night, in Heaven.”
Her enthusiasm at this idea was the final straw.
“Oh, fu……….dge!” I muttered into my arm.
Mom shot me a silencing glare, and my brother piped up, “I can’t wait, mom!”
When she turned back to her scriptures, he smiled over at me, that self-satisfied, that’s how it’s done, grin. I certainly wanted no part of Heaven if he was going to be there.
It would be many years before I admitted to myself that I was indeed, going to Hell. I was living in Pittsburgh with my young family. Going to church every Sunday was becoming a hardship. Listening to the constant sermons on doing more than we thought could, bringing the gospel to our friends, and the little ways we should be showing our discipleship everyday, was inexorably burying me in sandstorm of missed opportunities to serve. My best friends were not interested in my church, my church wasn’t interested in anyone not interested in them. I didn’t want to spend my time trying to convert people, I wanted to have fun. I’m a grasshopper in a church filled with ants, more interested in fiddling than gathering food for winter.
Then the realization, I actually am going to Hell.
It took a couple more years, a move to the frozen tundra of North Dakota, and a good friend telling me she was building me a place in Hell, right next to hers, for me to feel the relief. It’s alright, I’m going to Hell. All my favorite people will be there! The prospect of living next door to a person who currently lives in another country, well, that filled me with such excitement. I could live on a street of people who adore me. People who like me just the way I am. Fellow Grasshoppers! Think of how skinny we’ll all be from the winters of fasting! Our evenings spent laughing and singing naughty songs, dancing when the mood takes us.
What would be missing?
Judging. That would be missing. Shame. What purpose would that serve? Guilt. No more should-a, could-a, would-a. At one point I thought my kids would be missing, that is until my oldest turned 18. Pretty sure he’ll be there with me, but he’ll have to build his own damn house.
The words that sealed the deal.
“I’m not very religious.” He said.
“That’s okay, Jesus will forgive you.” I promised.
“F— him, he lets babies and puppies die.”
“Never mind, you’re going to hell.” I sigh.
“Hold my hand?”
Damn it! How does he do that?
“I’ll save you a seat……. on my lap.”
I can almost see his smile. Gotta run, there’s a seat waiting for me.