Two summers ago, Dad passed away. Mom suffered a literal broken heart, and followed him into Eternity less than four months later. Then a cascade of events happened that nearly erased my connection to my hometown. I haven’t been back since the estate sale. It’s the longest stretch I’ve ever been away from the place that birthed me, raised me, and launched me.
Even though I’ve had a driver’s license from a different state since high school, I just now feel like I’ve lost home.
HOME IS WHERE EVERY STORY STARTS
Growing up, I only remember living in one home—on the farm. We moved there when I was an infant, and even years after I had children of my own, Mom and Dad lived in that same rural rancher. When they finally did move into town as empty nesters, my parents moved even closer into the heart of the same community—where I had joined the Sunnyside 4-H Club, swam in the public pool, and attended school for more than a dozen years. For a major part of my life, this was homebase.
Even so (or maybe because so), I harbored an urge to get away.
Maybe I was trying to see if the concept of home would stay put or follow me.
My husband and I tested it early on.
Two weeks into a new city, new apartment, and new careers, we were robbed in an overnight “walk-in.” After leaving the front door open accidentally, we lost trash bags, a can opener, a toaster, a loaf of bread, small electronics, and (worst of all) a wholesale-club-size bag of frozen tamales. Actually, the biggest thing I lost that day was a sense of security, assumed safety, guaranteed goodness in my community. It revealed to a shocked small-town girl a wider world that could take from you what it wanted. And it shined a light on the blessed beginning I had.
It was the first time I remember feeling like I was living away from home.
Home gives us a vantage point to understand our place in the world, our part of God’s story. Home first sets our worldview and orients our heart.
And that foundation forms the framework of who we ultimately become.Home gives us a vantage point to understand our place in the world, our part of God’s story. Home first sets our worldview and orients our heart. And that foundation forms the framework of who we ultimately become.Click To Tweet
HOME IS A UNIVERSAL CONCEPT
My favorite TV shows are home improvement ones.
America’s pastime, baseball, has its goal to get the players safely home.
The most timeless songs mention it, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” or “Take Me Home, Country Road.”
Some of the best Instagram stories show homes with newborns arriving or soldiers returning.
The notion of home stirs emotions and connections. It revives tender memories and past people. Home done right evokes a feeling that we’re safe, nurtured, fully known and deeply loved. For the blessed of us, home is an early glimpse of heaven.The notion of home stirs emotions and connections. It revives tender memories and past people. Home done right evokes a feeling that we’re safe, nurtured, fully known and deeply loved. For the blessed of us, home is an early glimpse of heaven. Click To Tweet
Every culture values home.
Nadhe is a word from India’s Malayalam language meaning fragile, precious, homeland. It evokes a message that this is where your body is meant to be, regardless of the age when you left it.
Nostalgia, a German word, was actually once considered a disease—a serious, often fatal, medical condition. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the term came to be used as a wistful yearning for the past. Roughly translated, the word means “a longing to return home.”
Hygge is a Danish design concept. According to author Meik Wiking, hygge is an atmosphere and an experience, a coziness of the soul—about being with people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, shielded from the world. That we can let our guard down.
Each of these terms validates the enduring words of James Baldwin in his 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room:
Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
There’s no getting around our universal tie to home and the unraveling it can create in us once it’s loosened.
LIVING HOMELESS IS UNAVOIDABLE
As I worked my way through adulthood past that robbery episode, I made more choices that took me away. Without even realizing it, bit by bit, year by year, I was starting to lose my concept of home. Home, as I had long known it, seemed to be slowly slipping away.
But sometimes losing home doesn’t require anyone to move.
Sometimes circumstances change and take it away.
From my early journal:
Arriving home from the hospital feels different, for sure. And not just because of all the medical equipment and meds I’m bringing with me. My husband and I are both wondering if we can keep this home with stairs: Will I ever be able to walk up them again? The address and the furniture are still the same, but this home suddenly feels very different to me. This place I poured so much love and living into now feels like it belongs to somebody else. I feel like a needy guest here.
Regardless of our choices or circumstances, the truth is, we are all living away from Home. And every day our finite bodies and disappointed souls feel it.
Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. 2 Cor 5:2-5 (MSG)
We all know something is missing. Every human feels on his best day that things are still not as they should be. That we are not yet Home.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote,
The human spirit is incapable of ridding itself of an abiding sense of homelessness.
Like my phone in weak WIFI, spinning its wheel, we are always in seeking mode for Home.
I suspect most of us feel this way at some point in our lives, that we’ve lost our hometown or homestead, or home base. That we feel like a sojourner on earth. And maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Maybe you’re not missing a physical home but rather a person who embodied home, or a career or a friend who made your world seem familiar. For all of us, until we get Home to Him, there’s going to be this ongoing ache. Because these parts of our lives, for a season, formed stability for us. They knit a blanket that felt like home. And they emphasized our need for a permanent one.
Chronic illness has helped me realize that I’m longing for a type of healing this world cannot give me, that I’m essentially a soul thirsting for where I truly belong. I suppose through every loss and every move, without even realizing it, I’ve always been looking for a much more important kind of Home.
At the heart of the Christian gospel is the message that we are all homeless, but that there is a home in which our yearning hearts can and will find rest. That home is creation redeemed and transfigured, a place of grace that is inhabited by an indwelling God of unfathomable love. (Bouma-Prediger and Walsh, Beyond Homelessness.)
THEOLOGY OF HOME
Still, the concept of home, even the kind built of brick and full of family, lives deep inside us.
Part of the longing for those of us who left is for the place. But only because of the people who remained. And even when those people are gone, we can still have an enduring sense of home.
We bake favorite dishes, keep up holiday traditions, live our imperfect faith, and pass on inside jokes and irritating habits. All of this ties our children not to the physical home, but to us. This forms a sort of theology of home.
So maybe what we are called to is to take this theology of home, the values instilled in us, and plant it in other places along our journey toward a forever Home: in scary circumstances, in difficult days, in foreign fields. After all, that was always God’s plan to spread His word and save His world.We are called to take our theology of home and plant it in other places along our journey toward a forever Home: in scary circumstances, in difficult days, in foreign fields. After all, that was always God’s plan to spread His word and save His world.Click To Tweet
Many in Scripture lost home, too. The Israelites and the Prodigal Son, as well as the apostles and even Jesus, who all seemed at first to be without a permanent home, were really always on their way there. And on the journey, they ended up carrying a theology of Home with them.
To borrow Ann Voskamp’s term, they all “lived sent.”
According to G.K. Chesterton,
There are two ways of getting home. One of them is to stay there. The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place.
It’s been said that what we do within the walls of our homes will eventually reach the rest of the world. So my challenge is to take the theology of home that my parents gave me, to live sent in birthday parties and hospital rooms, amid poor rest results and answered prayers, through family vacations and unfamiliar futures.
That’s the safest way back to the place I started from.
And the surest way to keep from losing home.