A black car pulled up in the driveway, and my husband got out of the driver’s seat. Ben and Will ran to meet him across the yard of our rental house. Daddy picked them up and swung them around.
“What do you think of our new car?” he asked energetically.
Three-year-old Ben’s face immediately fell. “That’s not our car!” he protested. “I want my blue car! I want our car, from Central Asia! I want to go home!” He burst into angry tears, and James’ face registered consternation as he looked at me over Ben’s head.
Of our two boys, Ben struggled the most last year with our transition back to New Zealand for the birth of our next baby. He didn’t like our “new” house, he didn’t like living in Christchurch, he wanted his own bed, his own house, his own trike back in Central Asia.
In a word, he was homesick.
We’d only been living in this Central Asian village four and a half years, but we moved here right before Ben was born, and since three months old he’s spent more time here than anywhere else in the world.
From our first days here my own heart, too, has been knitted to this place: the people, the simple layout of the town, the routes to different friends’ houses, the mountains, the fields, the flocks of sheep and cows and horses, the quiet, slow, backwater feel of the place.
All three of our children (now ages 6, 4 and 1) have spent their early childhood here, so this place is the most familiar to them. When we’re visiting one of their two passport countries, it’s so ironic to me when they say “I want to go home” - and they mean this tiny corner of Central Asia.
It’s been in this village that our family has transitioned from three members to four members, and now to five with the addition of our daughter last year. Our rental house for the past two years is the place where I prepare our meals, where we sleep and play and wake up day after day. It’s the first place in which I’ve hosted my own parents, proudly fed them pizza and breadsticks made from scratch in “my own” kitchen.
At this moment, for this season, this is our home.
|My dad, having breakfast with the boys in our rental-kitchen...|
|I remember my Mom stenciling our house when I was little, |
so when she came she helped me stencil this rental house,
even though I know we won't be here forever…
Now, when I see my red cherries, I think of her.
This has not been tested yet, but I think even if we have to change houses again in this country, or even if we change countries (a very real and contemplated possibility), “home” for us and our children will travel with us to the new place. We’ll have our dishes, our bedspreads, our pictures on the walls, our books, our carpets, our water-filter, the same clothes and shoes and toys… and we’ll be together. Familiar things and familiar people will make both the external house-shell and the internal atmosphere of our next house feel like home to all of us.
The dictionary on my word processor defines “home” as “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or a household.” But don’t you think it would be more accurate to describe the essence of home as familiarity? Beloved people with whom we can be ourselves, a place where we know every little nook and cranny, a certain possession treasured because it evokes special memories…
Our hearts seem to be designed to knit to other hearts and tie to certain places.
In Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, the prince has a conversation with a fox in which the fox asks the prince to tame him. The prince asks, “What does ‘tamed’ mean?”
The fox replies, “It means, ‘to create ties’…”
“‘To create ties’?”
“That’s right,” the fox said. “...If you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you…”
We are made to ‘create ties’, to long for connections that make us unique to the other in all the world. We are created to lavish love and care on a person or a place, until they become so familiar and precious that when we’re away from them we ache inside.
And yet, places aren’t permanent, however much we wish they were, and eventually we have to say goodbye to people we love. On this planet, the only constant thing is change.
The apostle Paul compares our earthly bodies with tents (he was a tentmaker, after all, so he knew his stuff), and says we have an actual “building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…” He encouraged the Corinthian church to look to the “unseen weight of glory beyond all comparison” to get them through “momentary, light affliction…” (2 Cor 5:1-6)
How does knowing our true home, our “house not made with hands”, is in heaven - and that means we are actually sojourners, strangers and aliens on this earth - factor into our understanding of “home” and our heart-sense of where home is?
I find this difficult. I’m a physical person with a physical body, and my heart naturally knits to beloved people and special things and physical bits of earth. It is so hard for me to believe that intangible, difficult-to-imagine heaven will actually feel more like home than here…
I do know God will be there, and I know the closer I draw to Him now in this life, the more familiar He will feel and the more my heart will be knitted to Him and I will long to be with Him in person all the time, face to face, without ceasing.
While I was engaged to my husband, I went through this. When I was with him, I felt such a sense of belonging, of homecoming. He made me feel so safe and loved and welcomed and cherished that I wanted to be with him all. the. time. The more time we spent together (and even while we were apart), the closer our hearts drew together and the more familiar he felt to me. The more familiar he felt, the more I loved being with him. As we neared our wedding day, separating for sleep was torture. (Having said that, after marriage, learning how to actually sleep and get good rest in the same bed with another person definitely took some getting used to! But it was bliss not to have to say goodbye.)
|A little-seen engagement photo from 9 years ago… :)|
I wonder if that’s how we’re meant to feel now about heaven. Like an engaged bride feels about her coming marriage. What if we felt so comforted and accepted and safe and welcomed and cherished when we experience the presence of even Jesus’ non-physical Holy Spirit, that to be physically with Jesus Himself, our Bridegroom, face to face for all time and never have to say goodbye again… would be unimaginable bliss?
Maybe that’s why Paul (a person with arguably one of the closest ever relationships with the risen Jesus) wrote to the Galatians saying, “It is better for me by far to depart and be with Christ, but for your sake I’ll stay here on this messed-up, broken planet and keep shepherding you for your progress and joy in the faith…” (Phil 1:21-25, my paraphrase, emphasis added)
He was longing to be united with Christ.
Paul goes on to describes death not as unclothing us from our earthly bodies, but as being further clothed - “swallowed up by life.” After death, we’ll be more Alive, Paul says. Our resurrection bodies will be even more gloriously Real than the ones we have now.
What if it was the same for our sense of home, and all our knitted ties here on earth? What if after death (or when Jesus comes back!) we experience an even deeper sense of familiarity and delicious Home-coming than we ever have before?
In his book on heaven and hell, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis imagines the grass of heaven to be so much more Real than earth-grass that its spikes hurt the feet of the spirit-people who travel there in a bus to take a look. Might the sense of Home in heaven be like that too? More Real, more strangely familiar, more deliciously comforting than anything we’ve known on earth?
What if all our varied experiences of “home” on this earth - our house growing up, our parents’ home, our new homes we build as adults, our various patches of earth around the world to which we tie ourselves throughout the course of our lives - what if all these glimpses are merely meant to whet our appetites for the Real Thing?
What if we imagined each glimpse of beauty or delicious sense of homecoming or mouth-watering whiff of baking bread or sweet kiss from our child as a lovely shadow cast by an even lovelier Reality in Another Country? Wouldn’t we long to get to that Country?
In his thought-provoking fairytale The Golden Key, George MacDonald describes the journey of two children, Tangle and Mossy. During their travels they pass through a land of wonderful shadows, which MacDonald narrates in part like this:
“Now a wonderful form, half bird-like half human, would float across on outspread sailing pinions. Anon an exquisite shadow group of gambolling children would be followed by the loveliest female form, and that again by the grand stride of a Titanic shape, each disappearing in the surrounding press of shadowy foliage. Sometimes a profile of unspeakable beauty or grandeur would appear for a moment and vanish. Sometimes they seemed lovers that passed linked arm in arm, sometimes father and son, sometimes brothers in loving contest, sometimes sisters… Sometime wild horses would tear across… But some of the things which pleased them most they never knew how to describe.
“About the middle of the plain they sat down to to rest… After sitting for a while, each, looking up, saw the other in tears: they were each longing after the country whence the shadows fell.”
For the rest of their journey Mossy and Tangle are filled with this unspeakable longing to reach “the country whence the shadows fell”. MacDonald ends his fairytale like this:
“He took his key. It turned in the lock to the sounds of Aeolian music. A door opened upon slow hinges, and disclosed a winding stair within. The key vanished from his fingers. Tangle went up. Mossy followed. The door closed behind them. They climbed out of the earth; and, still climbing, rose above it. They were in the rainbow. Far abroad, over ocean and land, they could see through its transparent walls the earth beneath their feet. Stairs beside stairs wound up together, and beautiful beings of all ages climbed along with them.
“They knew that they were going up to the country whence the shadows fall.
“And by this time I think they must have got there.”
Surely our love of “home” and our ability to get “homesick” proves that every human being on this planet has a God-planted longing deep in our hearts, a longing to find our Way Home.
Isn’t it wonderful that the One who said,
“I have gone to prepare a place for you...”
“I am the Way…” ?
And aren’t we here, sojourning on this planet, to introduce the hearts longing for home all around us to that One who is Himself the Way to our True Home?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get to
“the country from whence the shadows fall”.
Because once there, with Him, we’ll never be homesick. ever. again.