‘You’ll never feel fully at home anywhere ever again!’ I was finishing my first year of living abroad, sitting with others in a ‘Preparing for home’ seminar. This session was meant to help us get ready to return and I was thinking, ‘You’re telling me this now?!’ Thankfully there were other more positive things that were said during that session but this did turn out to be true.
Now, after 13 years spent living as a foreigner in three more countries, ‘home’ is a difficult word. Returning to Wales is wonderful. I experience rest there that I don’t experience anywhere else. When Christmas and summer come round I can’t wait to get on the boat. Yet it’s true, I don’t feel fully at home – Ireland isn’t home, but neither is Wales really. I feel like Frodo talking to Gandalf on his journey home: ‘There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not be the same, for I shall not be the same.’
A better country to come
Abraham would have understood this feeling. By faith, he followed God’s call to leave his country and make his ‘home’ in the promised land. Hebrews 11 says that though he did leave and he did get to the land God promised him, it was never home. He lived as a foreigner, travelling around in tents. He lived, and died, looking forward, longing for his future home. For Abraham, as for all who have followed God’s call, home was not where he’d left. It was the better country to come. Knowing the God who had promised to prepare him a city made his longing and wandering worth it.
I don’t think you have to be a literal foreigner to experience this. You might never have left your home for more than a brief holiday yet you might still have felt something of this longing which the Welsh call ‘hiraeth’; a longing for a better home; a longing that nothing in this world, and nowhere in the world has been able to fully satisfy. If Hebrews is true, and if Peter is also right when he calls us all ‘foreigners and exiles’ in this world, this should not surprise us.
In his book on suffering, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says:
The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment he has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
Lewis agrees with the writer to the Hebrews that we are all on a journey. He says that God is kind in that he gives us lots of good things and places of rest on the way that refresh us and give us joy but he’s too kind to let those things fully satisfy us. He won’t let us feel fully at home here, because he has something, somewhere, much better for us; a home with him. That is the better home that we are made for and he wants to keep us longing for that.
Living fruitfully in the present
For Abraham, trusting in the promise of his future home enabled him to live fruitfully in the present. It’s the same for us. Knowing that we have a better home to come enables us to gratefully receive good things now for what they are; temporary gifts from our heavenly Father, given to refresh us but not to fulfil us. When those things are taken away, we don’t fall into despair because we know that those things were never meant to be lasting or to fully satisfy us anyway.
It also enables us to live with a loose hold on the things that bring us comfort and to be more willing to give them up if that is what God calls us to do. Returning to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, before he sets off on his perilous journey which he knows is going to cost him dearly, he says, ‘I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable.’
Our hope is so much better than Frodo’s! Our Shire is not behind, it’s ahead. It is safe, waiting for us with our Father who has promised to prepare us a city. Doesn’t that make our wandering more bearable? We might be called to give up many things now, our comfort, security, reputation, career advancement and relationships; yet knowing that the one who calls is also the one who himself left his home to come and seek us, knowing that he has gone ahead of us and is bringing us home, doesn’t that make it all worth it?
Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb. 12:2-3).