I sat next to Jesus. Here's the only way to describe my incredible experience

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "7 LESSONS FROM HEAVEN: How Dying Taught Me to Live a Joy-Filled Life." 

Programming note: The author is scheduled to appear on Fox & Friends on Wednesday, September 20.

When I wrote my first book, I referred to this presence rather vaguely, I’ll admit. There, I called Him an “angel, messenger, Christ, or teacher.” But why didn’t I share the true identity of the man next to me? I did know who He was, and without a doubt.

Thinking about it in the years since, I’ve realized that part of me wanted to keep this most private aspect of my experience just for myself. For some reason, I just didn’t want to share ev­erything, fearing that revealing it would make it less special. I have since discovered that this is a common concern for others who have had a deeply emotional or spiritual experience.

But something else held me back. Truthfully, I wasn’t ready to confess what I knew to be true because I knew there was nothing I had ever done to earn the right to have a con­versation with Jesus.

Of course, I can never earn the right to speak with Jesus, nor can I ever be “good enough” to bask in His love for me. But, oh how I wanted to! I wanted to deserve it.

If you’re like me, receiving something wonderful that you know you didn’t earn can be hard to swallow. It certainly runs counter to our risk-and-reward, crime-and-punishment cul­ture. If we succeed at work, we expect to receive the ac­colades, and hopefully the bonus. That’s only fair, right? If our children turn out well, we’re pretty sure it’s because of our good parenting. If we believe the right things, and live a “good” life, we’re pretty sure our prayers will get answered the way we want.

A mean reverse logic also lurks in our hearts and minds. When things don’t turn out well, we feel overlooked or pun­ished by God. An inner voice cries out, But I’ve tried to live a good life! Why did things turn out this way?

Or we strongly object on someone else’s behalf: What did my kindhearted friend do to deserve cancer?

Something’s wrong with this picture. God does not play favorites, and none of us has earned what we receive—neither the perceived blessings nor the perceived troubles. It was Job, the Bible’s poster child for suffering and unfair treatment, who said, “[God] shows no partiality to princes, and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (34:19).

Still, there’s a ledger keeper in all of us. For some of us, the ledger only tracks the “good stuff.” For others, it fixates on a long list of bad things, which we then hold over our own heads. Either way, the arithmetic is just as broken.

Thankfully, Jesus came to show another way. You and I don’t have to “earn” an intimate moment with God. I didn’t have to “deserve” a seat next to Jesus in that beautiful field. And I’m not required to earn his favor in order to spend an eternity enjoying God’s love.

I know that now.

Reprinted from 7 LESSONS FROM HEAVEN: How Dying Taught Me to Live a Joy-Filled Life Copyright © 2017 by Mary C. Neal, M.D . Published by Convergent, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Dr. Mary Neal is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon who drowned while kayaking on a South American river. She experienced life after death. She went to heaven and back, conversed with Jesus and experienced God’s encompassing love. She was returned to Earth with some specific instructions for work she still needed to do.