Not long after my thirtieth birthday, my parents moved from my childhood home. Commercial development of the adjacent farmland loomed on the horizon. My folks were looking to get out while the value was still high and move to something that would be more sustainable through their elder years i.e. something without stairs.
Our house was a modest place, but it was situated on 5 acres outside the limits of a medium-sized town—one McDonalds and a Kmart. Not quite a farm girl, I grew up with things simple and good—our home being the center of that. When my folks decided to move, I had only moved out myself in the previous year. I was just starting to get my feet under me after several years of vocational wandering, bouts of depression, and questions about my faith.
At the time of the sale, my parents were excited about their new place. Both of my sisters were also full of the new in their lives—one, a new mom; the other, a new wife. I, on the other hand, was just finding my way out of the dark and felt this ending acutely, wondering if I was the only one grieving.
After the final box was moved, I returned to wander around the property recounting memories and emotions tied to that physical place—the dilapidated treehouse, the empty horse stall, the pastures where we played hide and seek, the field road I wandered alone in my adolescence. It was a place of nurture and rest. The 500 square feet of my urban apartment paled in the face of those 5 acres of home.
Much is said of home. We long to be home for the holidays, cross the threshold after time away with “Home Sweet Home” on our lips, or wish for Dorothy’s ruby slippers when in a distant place. Borta bra men hemma bäst—I once stitched in fabric and floss this Swedish proverb that speaks well the sentiment we feel of home: “Away is good, but home is best.” Home is often taken for granted until we are away or feel the lack of its comforting presence.
I believe we take home for granted because the conception of home revolves around particularity—particular people (generally ones we love) in a particular place. People and place are a constant in our lives, an undercurrent in the background—until they change or go missing.
The idea of home came to the surface for me when my husband’s work took us away from our Colorado home to a new geography in eastern Kansas. During the exploratory phase, we spent a week there, living out of a hotel room. We worked each day—him at the new job site, me at the small hotel room desk—and spent the evenings driving around town looking for the place that would be our new, if temporary, home. As we had discussed the new opportunity, I said more than once, “My home is with you, Babe.” And when I kissed him farewell at the hotel door each morning, I sensed that mystery of two particular people and their love changing a particular place (in this case the hotel room) into home.
In the same way, a particular place without the particular people will soon lose the meaning of home. My family’s former home no longer holds the same power over me when I drive past. The locus of love as moved and taken the mystery of home with it.
I must confess I was very stubborn about saying that we had moved or did my best to never call our Kansas house our home. We still had our home in Colorado, and we returned there a least once or month. The melancholy I sensed each time we left Colorado made me wonder if this isn’t how children whose parents are divorced feel when transferring back and forth between mom and dad. Can I truly have two homes?
I’m not sure.
Jesus didn’t speak too much to this topic, but what he does say is disconcerting: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58). When a potential disciple says he first must return home to bury his father, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60) It’s difficult to reconcile our understanding of home and its comfort, safety and security with His words. Is it not good to have a home?
As with much of our faith, I believe the resolution to this conundrum lies in the mystery of the paradox itself. The question is not whether or not to build a home, but where that home is made. The author of Hebrews speaks of spiritual fathers and mothers as people who have “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth …. [making] it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” (11: 13-14). We too seek a homeland, so much so that we intrinsically build our nests here on earth.
Our earthly homes will always fall short. We may have to leave our childhood homes. We may spend time living from a hotel room or rental house. We may spend most days with Mom and every other weekend with Dad. The particular people may not be in our particular place. The Son of Man had no place to lay his head. But the homes we know will point us, even in their incompleteness, to our heavenly home with God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Frederick Buechner says, “The first home foreshadows the final home, and the final home hallows and fulfills what was most precious in the first” (The Longing for Home, pg. 3).
What home inspires in us is the completion of the coming Kingdom. It is God’s gift that allows us to look beyond and know that there is something more, something more complete that will fulfill our longings and be our true home.