When God is Our Home
I am currently in my forties and yet have never been fully or finally at home.
Throughout our childhood, Mom and Dad moved us to a new city every two years because of corporate job transfers. Childhood was followed by four years of college, six months teaching tennis in Kentucky, a three-month hiatus in Atlanta, and three and a half years in Saint Louis for seminary. After that, we spent twelve years planting two churches in two different states, followed by five years in New York City and, to date, almost five years in Nashville, Tennessee.
My wife Patti and I swear that we are never leaving Nashville. We are in full agreement, the two of us are, that we are finally home.
But are we?
We also swore, early on, that we would give more lasting roots to our kids.
But did we?
Last May, our oldest daughter graduated from high school. To commemorate her accomplishment, Patti and I wrote her long Letters from Mom and Dad. In those letters, we walked down memory lane reflecting upon and getting nostalgic about her eighteen years of life. As we reminisced, it dawned on both of us that, while we gave the girl opportunities, we never gave the girl roots…at least not with respect to place. To date, she has lived in eight different homes and attended nine different schools in six different cities.
Contemplating the quasi-nomadic upbringing that we imposed on our daughter, Patti wrote in her Letter from Mom, “I am so sorry…and you’re welcome.”
The “I’m sorry” part makes good sense. Moving of any kind is disorienting, especially in childhood. It uproots a child from friends, teachers, neighborhoods and familiar spaces. It digs a hole in the heart, uprooting and re-rooting like that. For better or for worse, our daughter’s story has become the same as mine. It’s a story with no lifelong friends or neighbors or houses from childhood. Instead, it’s the story of a traveler.
What good could come from eight homes and nine schools and six cities in less than nineteen years? Why on earth would my wife feel compelled to say “You’re welcome” right after saying “I’m so sorry” to our daughter? I believe it’s because regret and hope don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In our daughter’s case, the two can run together for three reasons I can think of.
First, home is more than a place. Home is also the people you travel with and live alongside as you move from place to place. And, for those who travel with Jesus, family is everywhere—surrogate daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandmas and grandpas await us in every city and town to which the Church has been scattered.
Even more than this, Home is Three Persons versus a single place. The God of nomadic travelers is our Home. He is the God of Abraham, who left country and kindred and his father’s house to the land that God would show him. He is the God of Israel, who wandered in the wilderness for forty years. He is the God of the Jews, who were taken captive to Egypt, Assyria and Babylon after their homes were taken from them by conquest. And he is the God of Jesus Christ, who, in his most “displaced” moments, cried out to his Father for wisdom, comfort and presence. This Father—this traveling God who also never leaves, and whose dominion and presence covers every single person, place and thing—is also our Father. He is never away from us, and we are never away from him. Wherever we go, his goodness and mercy follow us for all of our days. If we ascend to heaven, He is there. If we make our beds in Sheol, He is there also. And? He is not merely with us; he is within us. He will never leave us or forsake us. In that sense, we are never not at home.
Second, while there are immense benefits to putting down roots in a particular place among a particular people (contrary to, and perhaps because of my immensely poor example, I highly recommend it), there are also some potential liabilities—namely, the narrowing, blinding effect of never being exposed to cultures, peoples, places, skin colors, economic brackets, dialects, philosophies, experiences and perspectives that those who are other can offer to us. For it is only in drawing near to the other that we gain a fuller appreciation of the Imago Dei. For the Imago Dei, or the Image of God, is not contained in any single people group or place, but rather in the faces and stories and triumphs and sorrows of every nation, tribe, tongue and generation. Rather than lock us down into a single place and perspective, the nomadic way increases our exposure and broadens our horizons.
Third, and perhaps most relevant, Patti’s “You’re welcome” to our daughter for the quasi-nomadic life that we have “given” her is that a quasi-nomadic life confirms that none of us is home…at least not yet. Said another way, traveling from place to place stirs our longing for the home that is truly Home.
Until then, God willing, we’re staying put in Nashville. But I digress…
Whether we live in Nashville or Timbuktu, whether we have lived in twenty homes or have been in the same home all of our lives, none of us has arrived Home yet. Even the most “rooted” among us are, as the Apostle reminds us, aliens and strangers who are traveling through a land that is, by its fallen nature, foreign to us. We are, as it were, exiles. The place that Jesus has gone and prepared for us is not here, but There. Not even the “faith heroes” of Hebrews 11 got to see or experience the “better country” while they were living. So then, neither should we expect to see or experience Home fully or finally until Jesus returns. This is the same Jesus who will make all things new as he transforms this weary world into a Garden-City—New Jerusalem, with a tree rooted down deep right in its center, planted there for the healing of the nations—that we will forever call Home.
Until Then, even the most solid homes, and the deepest roots, will merely be appetizers to prepare us for an everlasting Feast, road signs to prepare us for an everlasting Destination, temporary dwellings to prepare us for an everlasting Home.
Like every good gift from God, the places and people that we call “home” are pointers, but they are not the point. Until we understand this, I daresay that we will not only be wanderers, but aimless and rootless ones. “Aim at heaven,” C.S. Lewis said, “and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you’ll get neither.”
It was also Lewis who said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
It is Lewis’ observation, coupled with my own, sometimes lonesome and sometimes wonderful nomadic years, that makes me grateful for the Home that is promised in Revelation 21:1-5:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
This is the Home where, according to Tolkein’s Samwise Gamgee, “everything sad will come untrue,” and to Lewis’ Aslan, “every day will be better than the day before.”
So, when you feel the ache of not being all the way Home yet, remember where Jesus told us to locate our treasure: in Heaven, which is our true Home. Because God has moved our judgment day from the future to the past in Christ, we know that the mistakes and regrets and sins of our past will not count against us in the future.
Instead, our best days are yet to come…because we will finally, once and for all, be Home.
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