Hello, Beauty Observed family! Eddie here. This is my third and final post during Elizabeth’s absence. She has been visiting Amy, our oldest daughter, in Washington, D.C. They’ll both be home late tonight and we can’t wait to see them.
The following flows out of my thinking about what it feels like to return home.
It’s certainly true that much ink has been spilled (and by better writers) on the subject of home. Everybody turns one part philosopher and one part poet when talking about what it means to them. Or at least when they think of what home ought to be.
What I am writing about is one very specific thing. Namely, what it feels like to return home after having been away for a time. I want to focus on that nearly universal human emotion that overtakes us when, after a long journey, we round the last corner to come within sight of the familiar landmark which signals our souls to, “Be of good cheer! You are almost home!”
In a way, this might be an answer to a question no one is asking. Aren’t there, after all, many natural reasons why humans feel this way? Home is our primary shelter. Like any other creature God has made, people are naturally designed to seek a safe place, so it makes sense that the idea of home brings comfort. In the same way, the sight of home causes a natural, mental reaction that declares “food!” This mental connection, like the one linking home to shelter, is therefore easily explained by nature. So there is a naturally strong connection between home and two important human needs – food and shelter.
A third human need connected naturally to the home is the need for relationship.
The fulfillment of any one of these human needs – food, shelter, relationship – may be compromised in an earthly dwelling, but it’s a heavy truth that bad relationships represent the worst kinds of damages suffered there. In this world, there are those who endure awful pain in this regard. Children or spouses who have been abused at home can hardly be blamed for not associating these homes with safe places. But as sad and true as this can be, all know by a kind of intuition that this is not how it is supposed to be. We know that the normal, healthy connection between relationships and where we live should be one of trust and safety. So even though it is often flawed, a natural connection exists in this third area just as it does between home and food, or home and shelter.
If one wishes to do so, he could write off all of these feelings as nothing more than natural, biological, and/or, if he prefers, evolutionary effects. Not many would deny that those things play a part, but I am not convinced that such natural processes are all that is at work here. They do not seem adequate to explain the intensity or complexity of the emotions involved.
No one doubts that natural processes can be very strong. If I step outside later tonight and get surprised by the skunk that lives under our back porch, I will experience an immediate state change. Hopefully, he will remain calm even while I don’t. If I am denied water for two days, my entire being will drive me to obtain water by any means necessary. The effects of nature can be powerful. But the emotional content of these reactions is small by comparison to the emotional content wrapped up in the human idea of home.
I am suggesting that what happens to people when they finally return home after a long journey is something more. It goes deeper than a simple biological, mental trigger which indicates a satisfaction of basic needs. This deep connection we have to our homes goes literally down to the soul. The emotions are pointing to something beyond.
I have been reading some of the “big brains” of the Church like Augustine, Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis. I am no expert on any of them, but I can say all three of them talk about how man comes from God, lives through God, and is destined to return to God. Each would agree that God is the final end of man. The Westminster Catechism affirms that destiny in the answer to question one. Q: What is the chief end of man? A: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
God has placed us for now in this world, but it is not meant to be our final home.
This is why, I believe, there are so many complex emotions that strike us hard when we come home. My mother, bless her heart, has even been know to cry and kiss the ground of her Virginia home after returning from a long trip. People will cry when they see other people, even if they are complete strangers, finally make it back to their own homes! If we see a serviceman or woman step off of a plane and begin running across the tarmac, only to collapse into the arms of their family, we cry. When a repentant thief has finally paid his debt to society and is released to go home, we cry. When a runaway or lost child is finally found and returned to where they belong, we cry. These tears and the emotions that provoke them are, again, complex. We experience more than simple tears of joy – something more than merely biological reactions.
Our emotions are mixed with something painful. They are mixed with longing.
My guess is that this longing can be linked directly to something wired into us by God. Something that points us always towards home. Not toward our earthly homes which will someday pass away. Not these earthly homes that may not always provide the best shelter, may not always have enough food, may not always be the safest, most loving places. No. These earthly homes we inhabit and the longing God fuses into our hearts when we think about them are signs. The hard, powerful part of this emotion that’s inextricably entwined with our earthly homes is pointing us to our final, Heavenly Home.
In that place, we will abide under the Shadow of His Wings.
The table He sets before us will be filled and our cups will overflow.
Each child – every single one of us – will have continual access to the sweetest, most loving, most patient, most wise Heavenly Father. We will cry out, “Abba, Father!” and He will be there.
As Christians, our lives need to be lived out according to God’s plans. We recognize this built-in longing for our Heavenly Home, but there is work to do here. Part of that work is to help others see what their longings are really pointing to. Living out and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the best way for us to help our neighbors to make it home, too. And even though “here” is less than perfect (because it is not meant to be a place we get too attached to) it is not without its beauty. We can thank God’s grace for that.
Life is “all in His time” as the saying goes. But if you are like me, and I have a hunch that you are, your spirit will occasionally sigh with the spirit of the weary traveller and you will whisper, “I just can’t wait to get home.”
July, 2014 Eddie Nicholson