Searching for Home
- Friday, September 16, 2005
Life is full of unexpected surprises right? Try as we might, well-orchestrated plans unravel at the last minute. It's like there's some law of physics or force of nature that exists just for this purpose -- to make sure we never quite know how life will turn out.
The past two weeks have been a perfect case in point. I was merrily strolling down the path of life, content in my modest two-bedroom town home when the landlords made a sudden change in the lease terms. In order to rent the town home for another year (as had been the original plan), I would have to sign on for twice the amount I had been paying. Needless to say, this was a "deal" I had to refuse.
So, suddenly I found myself at the end of my manicured path and staring into a rather mysterious jungle of possibilities. I've spent the past week and a half scrambling to find a new living situation that is both affordable and compatible in regards to housemates. This process has thrown a few more unpleasant and unexpected surprises my way, including the rather high cost of living in the area and the rather low roommate potential in my social life.
Not only have I been scrambling to find a good living situation, but I've also been planning the big move. Moving is never fun, but it's especially not fun when it's sprung on you at the last minute. At the moment, my tranquil abode has been transformed into pure chaos, and to add to the mayhem, my landlords have hired people to come in to replace half the appliances. Amid the boxes and packing tape, I must also navigate torn pieces of flooring and inoperable plumbing.
Perhaps all of this would be just a humorous moment in the life of Sarah if it weren't the reality I am facing come July 1st: moving back in with my parents. That's right - in order to ensure that I don't sign onto a bad lease in a moment of desperation, my best and only option in the immediate future is to move home.
Except at this point in my life it doesn't feel like "home." It feels like my parent's house. Oh sure, it's a home away from home...but when you're 24 going on 25 it's just not natural to be living under your parents' roof again. It can be downright awkward. As much as I love my parents, I can't shake the feeling of being a little bit displaced at the moment.
This sense of displacement has an odd sense of familiarity to it, though. No matter how comfortable I try to get, my living quarters are never quite the dwelling places I hope they will be. Take the place I'm leaving, for example. It was my first real "home" after I graduated from college. It was comfortable and had all the basic amenities, but the walls could have used some paint. All the living room furniture belonged to my roommate so at times I still felt like a guest -- and it definitely wasn't my style. And although my roommate is a great person, there were days I wished I could trade her and her three dogs in for a "real family" that didn't slobber and shed (the dogs, not her!).
Most of us will always want a little more space, a newer set of furniture, a better community, or easier housemates. I can look at glossy home magazines featuring smiling model residents, yet there is a distinct, nagging voice in my mind that says, "Sarah, spend all the money you want -- both imaginary and real -- but it will never quite measure up." And I am reminded that although our homes can be places of permanency, stability, warmth, acceptance, intimacy, and joy, they can also be places of hurt, anger, glaring imperfections, stress, and even isolation.
Perhaps I should take a lesson from St. Therese of Lisieux. This young nun, tucked away from the world in a convent at the end of the 19th century, referred to all of life as an exile. Throughout her short life she never took her eyes off heaven. In one of her letters she writes of the limited nature of this world and the eternal beauty of the next:
"Yes, the figure of this world passeth away (1 Cor. 7:31), soon shall we see new heavens; a more radiant sun will brighten with its splendors ethereal seas and infinite horizons... We shall no longer be prisoners in a land of exile, all will be at an end and with our Heavenly Spouse we shall sail o'er boundless waters"
Prisoners in a land of exile -- these are strong words, but anyone who has ever known loneliness in life will relate. And who hasn't felt lonely or out of place from time to time?
Yet, just that brief description of eternity beats my wildest dream home made of mere sticks and concrete. She takes the concept of heaven even beyond the spectacular imagery though. For her, it was not just a location, but a place of perfect love, a haven for intimacy with God and others. In another writing, she shares, "It is God's will that in this world by means of prayer Heavenly treasures should be imparted by souls one to another, so that when they reach the Fatherland they may love one another with a love born of gratitude, with an affection far, far exceeding the most ideal family affection upon earth." [emphasis mine].
Given the state of many families today, and a child of divorce myself, this line really captures my attention. Isn't this, after all, what we're really looking for when we think of "home?" True intimacy, acceptance, and love. How many of us live in beautiful houses but have painfully ugly family lives? Or how many of us just wish our home lives were a little happier, a little more peaceful? If St. Therese is right, even today's nicest households pale in comparison to the place she envisions.
The great writer, C.S. Lewis, was also keenly aware of an earthly exile as well as a need to find that haven we call home -- and for him it was not just the people, but the place that counted too. In his much-celebrated Chronicles of Narnia he explores this concept. At the end of the series, the Narnians find themselves mourning the complete destruction of their beautiful, magical home, the Land of Narnia. Indeed the reader is mourning right along with them despite the fact that the characters are standing in the middle of a paradise. Much to their (and your) joy however, the great king Aslan reveals something to them they never knew: his land is not just paradise...it is Narnia. It is the home they always knew but better -- the old Narnia was but a poor imitation. Suddenly the loss of the old was a cause for celebration.
It's fascinating to think that one can be in the middle of a beautiful paradise and still grieve, still feel displaced. Yet as Lewis' characters demonstrate, heaven itself would not be heaven if it wasn't also home. The enduring legacy of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles indicate that he has tapped into a universal longing of the human heart -- to find our true home, our true resting place. At times in our lives we may feel a semblance of the home we seek -- perhaps even a mirror image -- but until we find the "real deal," we all remain wanderers in a beautiful but foreign land.
Not unlike Aslan, Christ has an answer for those who seek to fill that longing -- except His solution is not fictional. As recorded by the apostle John, Jesus tells his followers that although we feel like foreigners in exile throughout life, He will personally prepare a home for each one of us in heaven.
"Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places...I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also." John 14:1-3
Or in Paul's words:
"For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God's household." ~ Ephesians 2:14-22
"For we know that if our earthly house, a tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." ~ 2 Corinthians 5: 1–21
Knowing I have a true home that awaits me -- a permanent home that far exceeds any earthly home, yet mysteriously includes all the comforts and familiarities of my parent's living room -- sheds new light on my present situation. As I sit in my room among my scattered belongings, my valuables boxed up, suddenly my wandering days don't seem so bad. I have the confidence to wander as far as I want or need, and know I will never be completely lost. Perhaps I'll even be able to live up to some different words of wisdom by the apostle Paul:
"Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content..." ~ Philippians 4:11
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