Leaving home – Coming home (part 1)

“How does it feel to be home?” It’s a question we’ve been asked a lot in the few months since we moved from London back to Missouri. It feels especially relevant now that we’ve finally moved into our house in Columbia (after living in Jeff City with my gracious in-laws). We are at the hanging pictures on the wall stage, and starting to figure out what does day-to-day life look with kids’ schedules. So we are increasingly feeling that we are home.

That chance to come home was part of what attracted us to Columbia and specifically The Crossing. I’ve been reminded of a line from Elbow’s song Station Approach: “I need to be in the town where they know what I’m like and don’t mind’.* It’s significant to come to a place where you’re already known (at least by some). I’ve known some of the staff for nearly 20 years, and Erin and I were part of things the first year of the church. So people here know my warts, my foibles, my flaws—and they wanted me to come anyway. And that’s a pretty potent definition of home: the place where you’re known but accepted anyway.

* The fact that Elbow isn’t more widely known here as a great band is one thing I’d like to change. Great, thoughtful, moving music and lyrics. Stay with the song above to the 3:34 mark where it becomes a great blood-pumping, foot-tapping piece. For an album, start with The Seldom-Seen Kid.

Yet ‘home’ is not as simple as that. We left home in order to come home. We lived in England for 8 years, had 4 kids there, settled in a house, and were blessed with some great friendships. It was home. Every time we got on the trans-Atlantic flight, whether we were flying east or west, we felt like we were leaving home and returning home. So to say that we have now come home is true but only partly.

That doubled sense of home offers a potentially valuable spiritual insight. How are we to think about home as Christians? That’s a huge question, but Hebrews 11 can help us. This NT chapter is sometimes known as the Hall of Faith. It tells how numerous Old Testament figures lived by faith—that is, they lived relying on unseen, future realities (v.1) rather than based on their circumstances as they could see them at the time.

Abraham, in particular, had to live by faith when it came to making a home. God gave him the grand promise that he would inherit the land of Canaan (Gen 12:1-3; 17:8). But this didn’t happen in Abraham’s own lifetime. Instead, he ‘made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country’, as did his son and grandson after him (Heb 11:9). He had a home but not in the enduring way that God had promised him.

That’s a fascinating juxtaposition: Abraham made a home but like a stranger, an exile, perhaps we could say, an immigrant. He was at home, and yet he wasn’t. To make a home like an exile means you’re settled but not entirely, not fully or truly. Maybe there’s an inner nest at home, but you’re an outsider still in wider circles. We can see practically that was true of Abraham’s life, when he carefully negotiated with the natives in order to buy land (Gen 23).

For us, one of the gifts of living abroad was a persistent, underlying unsettledness. We were at home but not entirely. People made cultural references all the time to TV shows from when they were kids, or used normal British phrases we didn’t know, or talked about cricket with the knowledge that can only come from growing up with the game. We were on the outside in those moments, hearing but not understanding. We always had some sense, even if it only was niggling and in the background, of being dislocated and never fully comfortable.

But I count that actually as a gift. It would have its moments of annoyance, but in its way, it was helping me see how to be at home and yet remain an outsider. We never could grow completely comfortable, or feel like it was natural. We were at home but only partly.

What Abraham experienced is still ours too. Yes, we know more and experience a greater fullness in Christ than he did. But we still live by faith. We await the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are not yet home either. We can see it more clearly than he did, and we know that Jesus is preparing our home (John 14:1-4). But we’re not there yet. We are still foreigners and exiles looking for that better country, the city God is building (Heb 11:16).

So we need to learn to live as those who make their home like a foreigner or an immigrant. We should cultivate a sense of being at home and yet with an underlying unsettledness that we’re not at home. Both are important, and if we step out of the tension either direction, we miss something.

  • If we don’t make a home, then we deny that this is God’s creation which we were made for, and that he will redeem it, and we are to seek its good in the meantime (Jer 29:5-7).
  • If we become too much at home, we are acting as if this is permanent and the way things will always be. We ignore the coming rupture when God will break in and make all things new.

My hunch is that we are more prone to the 2nd error: that we become too settled and no longer live as foreigners. I will say more next Friday about how we practically can cultivate a sense of being unsettled while at home. For now, perhaps we can pray, as Advent reaches its culmination in Christmas, that we would be at home here, because Christ has come once into this world to save it, while at the same time longing for a home to come, because he hasn’t yet come a second time to deliver us finally.

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