by Susan Booth
25 204 103 225 1204 38–40 129 32. This string of numbers is not a confirmation code. It’s not a VIN number or a drawn-out football audible. It’s not even a credit card number or the combination to a safe. It is valuable, however, at least to me.
There’s likely only one other person on the planet who can decode it at first glance. This seemingly random series of digits is a list of house numbers that over the years I’ve called home.
As you can tell even from this abbreviated list, the location of home has often changed. What you can’t see is that the list includes three different countries. It’s ironic really, for someone who is basically a homebody. I imagine that given a few minutes you could easily draw up your own unique list of house numbers that bring to mind equally vivid memories.
Home. It’s a simple word—only four letters—but it’s a word that carries weight. Charles Dickens once wrote that “home” is a stronger word than any magician or conjurer ever spoke.1
The mere mention of the word can evoke a longing so profound that it can only be described in terms of a physical ailment: homesickness. Longings for home punctuate our books, our movies, and our music: “There’s no place like home”; “Home is where the heart is”; “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”; “You can’t go home again.” Tied to our screens and the internet, most of us click on “home” multiple times a day without even thinking about it.
In these days of global mobility, it’s rare to find someone who has always lived in the same location. When you’ve moved around a lot, the simple question “Where’s home for you?” involves a tangled answer. But home is more than a place.
It’s the people who make a house a home. And no matter how ideal those relationships may have been in the past, they can’t help but change over time.
Thumbing through old photo albums, we laugh at big hair and shoulder pads and out-of-style neckties. But occasionally the laughter catches in our throats when the nest feels empty. Faces that used to gather round the table may be far away, or wrinkled, or . . . no longer with us. As much as we’ve tried to savor the moments, we are sometimes left with an unsettling nostalgia for the home that was.
Or wasn’t. Even when the word “home” conjures up associations of dysfunction and brokenness, it uncovers a powerful ache for someplace better.
Finding the way home is a perennial cry of the human heart. Countless movies explore this theme: The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Apollo 13, Finding Nemo, The Martian, The Jungle Book, and the recent movie Lion—just to name a few. Once you begin to look for this theme, you see it everywhere. Our culture’s fascination with this quest reveals a deep yearning for the heart’s true home. But if the truth be told, even if we somehow find our way back to where we came from, it disappoints. It still doesn’t satisfy this universal longing for home.
There seems to be a deep-seated sense of exile that no home on earth can resolve—however lovely or filled with laughter. C. S. Lewis addresses the longing behind this unmet desire for home:
Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.2
What if the home we long for is not a place but a Person? Intriguingly, the Bible whispers, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Jesus comforted his disciples on the night before his crucifixion: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. . . . When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”
In the meantime, he promises to come live with those who love and obey him: “My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them” (see Deut. 33:27; John 14:1–3; John 14:23).
The whole Bible, in fact, tells a story that makes sense of our innate longing for home. Its opening pages describe a perfect home—shared with God—and narrate the events that led to humanity’s tragic eviction. Its closing pages picture a perfected humanity, welcomed home into the direct presence of God. As the story unfolds between these two bookends, God unwaveringly pursues his mission to rescue humanity and restore creation, and he does so by means of making his home in the midst of his people.
I’ve found that highlighting this theme of “home” is an excellent way to engage seekers in the metanarrative of scripture. I encourage you to reread God’s epic story through this lens and invite some friends to join you on the journey. When we share the gospel in terms of home, it may resonate with the truest, deepest yearnings of their hearts. They may finally hear the words that we long for all our lives: “Welcome home!”
—Excerpts from Longing for Home: Tracing the Path of God’s Story to Find Your True Home by Susan Maxwell Booth (Available on Amazon.com March 2018).
1 Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (London: Odhams Press, 1844), 504.
2. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 1949; rev. 1980), 4.
Susan Booth is professor of evangelism and missions at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College in Cochrane, Alberta. She and her husband, Steve, served for seven years as missionaries in Budapest, Hungary, before moving to Canada in 2000. She is the author of The Tabernacling Presence of God: Mission and Gospel Witness. Susan enjoys equipping people to share the gospel.