Searching for Our Home

We Will Never Feel Fully “At Home” in This Life

Guest Contributor / 8.23.21

This article comes to us from Joey Goodall:

The concept of home has always had a strong hold on me. Between the ages of 4-6, I watched a fuzzy, recorded-off-TV VHS copy of The Wizard of Oz every afternoon. I also listened to country and country-adjacent music almost exclusively for the first ten years of my life, and home is a theme that pops up time and time again in that genre, especially a nostalgic longing for one, my footsteps carry me away, but in my mind I’m always going home…”

However, Dorothy Gale and country music share a certain ambivalence about home. Dorothy wouldn’t have had to tap her ruby slippers together to get back to Kansas had she not first run away, and there are just as many country songs about living on the road, free and unattached, as there are about settling down. “I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine, I ain’t rich, but Lord, I’m free,” etc. I carried this dichotomy inside me throughout the first third of my life, often feeling the pull of “freedom” in moments when God felt like an abstraction, and when the reality of home felt antithetical to the concept that gave me comfort.

I think Paul Zahl was right when he said in his podcast that the longing for home can be “ultimately an aspiration for union with God, which is really our true and final home.” A place where you feel welcome, fully loved, and can finally rest. I like to believe that this is usually where my longing comes from, but I’ve also seen it at its most disordered — when home functions as another attempt at control, or turns into an idol.

My wife and I got married in early May of 2020. We broadcast our ceremony from our new home on Zoom, with only our daughters, our pastor, and a total of five friends and family in physical attendance.

We knew that on top of the challenge of blending two pre-existing families into a new cohesive whole, we were going to face other difficulties due to COVID and the sheer amount of time we were all about to be stuck at home with nowhere else to go. I was hoping that having a home that was new to the four of us (that we got just before the real estate market went berserk) would inoculate us from some of the hardest parts. We even had a newly finished basement we could each take turns escaping to, if things got to be too much.

A week after the wedding, a long hard rain fell, and our basement filled with water. Our living space was cut in half, and our bank accounts drained the way our basement should have.

In the long run, this all turned out to be more of a minor (albeit months long) annoyance than anything else, but in the moment, it was proof of my failure, failure to ask the sellers about a sump pump, failure to keep my family from experiencing unnecessary hardships, failure to be enough in general. Of course, in general, I am not enough, and it’s good news that I don’t have to be. This ordeal turned out to be further proof that no earthly home could save me, and further, that I couldn’t save myself or anyone else.

Why own a home that might be flooded? What good is putting down roots anywhere amid the incalculable uncertainties of life? The safety and security promised by home can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Along these lines, the prophet Jeremiah’s word to the Israelites exiled in Babylon feels counterintuitive. Faced with more precarity than stability, Jeremiah suggested they live as though their exile is more than a temporary pit stop:

 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer 29:4-7)

Whether it be our own transitory lives or unexpected calamities, the uncertainty of life accompanies us at each step along the way. We are exiles in this earthly home, separated from our Creator. We have no forever home, somehow guarded from the rising flood water. But this home is the one He created for us for the time being and, though temporary, is ours to tend and keep. To cultivate what we can in the time we have. This sounds a little like law: do this and do that. But this is followed by a promise that we don’t have to (and couldn’t) earn: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Like the exiles in Babylon, we will never feel fully “at home” in this life, because we can’t. We’re not meant to and that little bit of our restlessness we feel here points us towards what only Christ can fulfill. We’ll all hopefully get glimpses of what full union with God will feel like: when friends we haven’t seen in a long time are visibly happy to see us, when our young children unexpectedly reach up to hold our hand, when our husbands or wives forgive us again and again for the same dumb things we can’t stop doing or not doing. These glimpses are to be cherished, but they are just temporary earthly instances of grace that serve to remind us of the everlasting, otherworldly grace of God.