A strip of road unwound toward a nondescript town that neither of us had ever visited. He hailed from rural Kenya, where he taught neighbors about the Bible among plots of maize and rust-colored earth. I knew only the concrete and white clapboard of the northeastern US — its coffee mugs, felt coats, and snow-gray skies. An ocean separated the daily trappings of our lives.
For one hour on a highway, however, we conversed with the easy tenderness of a brother and sister, of two strangers made close through Christ. We talked about calling, about service, and about hearing God. As telephone poles slid past the windshield in a dark grid, I asked how his seminary studies in the US had influenced his life in Kenya.
“It’s hard,” he sighed. “Being here has changed me. I’ve never completely belonged here, but I don’t fit in there anymore either.”
I recognized in his voice the same forlorn tone with which other friends had spoken of this straddling between worlds. Psychologists and sociologists give it a name — acculturation, the merging and modification of cultures. As is often true of theory and statistics, journal articles seldom capture the flesh-and-blood nuances of the struggle: the creases upon a brow, the eyes misting from the sting of tangled memories. The photographs that suddenly seem out of place. The drifting.
My friend drew a breath, and with it seemed to take hold of the New England tree line, to anchor himself in that cragged horizon. When he finally spoke, his words were taut, his voice barely holding together, the foundation cracking. “It’s like I don’t really have a home,” he said. “But then again, what home does any of us have, before heaven?”
The words hung in the air, their weight pulling upon my heart. I could not know the intricacies of his suspension between cultures, the raw wounds that struggle tore open. But everyone on this lush earth knows the yearning for home. I could palpate the longing, could feel the emptiness twisting my stomach as I reached into my own memory for places that seemed to flicker and vanish, fragile lights snuffed out.
Wanderers on the Earth
Home is a word we brandish casually, its colors weathered, its edges frayed from careless use. It connotes stability, rest, belonging. Yet with all its familiarity, how often does the peace of home elude us?
How many of us return to a childhood home to find the enchanted gardens overgrown with weeds, and cracks and ivy climbing the walls? How often do we return to beloved spaces to find the people who shaped us gone, their voices and scent vanished from the empty, unswept rooms? How do we grasp home when families break and scatter? How do we cling to it, when its definition forever shifts, its location constantly changes? How do we admit that wherever we go, we don’t really belong? That when we stroll boulevards fringed with skyscrapers, and lose ourselves in a sea of people, we still feel so alone?
Places leave imprints upon us that persist for a lifetime. Our own marks upon our surroundings, however, are ephemeral. Homes in this life change us, then forget us. They mold our hearts, but eventually our fingerprints fade from their surfaces. With each cycle of the earth about the sun, cherished walls wither and crumble. This side of the fall, every soul stumbles about the planet in search of home. Wrenched from God, none of us entirely belongs. We yearn to be at rest with the Lord, but we all remain wanderers, lost in the desert.
Our heritage as nomads began when Adam and Eve, trembling, skulked away from the garden with their eyes averted from God (Genesis 3:21–24). Our displacement has continued since then, driving us into shackles (Deuteronomy 6:21), into the wilderness (Numbers 32:13), into a constant restlessness as we strive to become whole again. To be gathered and led, finally, completely, by the patient, loving arms of the good shepherd (Zechariah 10:2; John 10:11).
In the meantime, our souls stir in discontent. Restlessness grips our bones. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” we inwardly cry. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:1–2). While we seek, strive, and pine for belonging, we know the rust-colored roads and white clapboard are only shadows of the home for which we all yearn.
Yet even in our most desperate longing, we have hope. As C.S. Lewis writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, 138). While photographs grow yellow and roots from trees push through the decaying sidewalk, we remain God’s beloved. We bear his image (Genesis 1:27). He knows every wind-torn hair upon our heads (Matthew 10:30).
Christ offers us, at long last, the promise of home, and peace, and belonging for which we all thirst (Psalm 42:1, Matthew 11:28). While we struggle through cultures and memory to discern our place, we cling to the hope that this sojourn on earth is transient. As Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1–2).
We serve a God who hears our cries, who knows the fracturing of our hearts as we wander the earth. Through Christ’s sacrifice, he welcomes us into respite (Psalm 107:4–7). As the father embraces his prodigal son, so God rushes to us with open arms, welcoming us to his table, inviting us to enjoy the communion possible only through the healing power of redemption (Luke 15:20) — through the forgiveness of our sins, which at long last restores us to God and makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).
In Christ, we find belonging. Through him we revel in a joy without boundaries, a joy that never fades, a joy whose walls will never crumble to dust. As the road unwinds, Christ’s resurrection draws us into the perfect communion for which our souls ache. He restores us. He renews us. He finally, gently pulls us weary and dust-covered from our wanderings, and at last calls us home.