The other day I was astonished to realise that I’ve been in my current home for five years. Where have those years gone? Did I forget to pay attention? Or was I just too busy doing life?
But when I slow down enough to remember all that’s happened during that time, my perspective changes completely. I feel exhausted just thinking about it! All that upheaval, moving from our home of many memories to a house with none, at least, none of ours. And all that energy, packing up a life, only to unpack it again and then to cull, divest and downsize. And all that not-knowing, turning to the next page in our family’s story, which lay blank, waiting for more to be written.
I’m no stranger to moving house. Over my lifetime I’ve lived in 17 different homes in four different countries (Australia, Canada, Britain, Indonesia), and the longest I’ve ever been in one home is eight years. I’ve managed to do that twice. But my current average stay in one home is 3.23 years.
These days I’m in Sydney, New South Wales and I’ve lived in the same north shore area of this city for 20 years, eclipsing my previous best of 15 years (in two stints) in one city. But this is not where I was born or grew up, and it’s not where most of my extended family lives. That’s in South Australia.
Did you know that SA is the driest state in the driest inhabitable continent in the world? Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also very sparsely populated. The state’s total area is 984,377 km², but around 77 per cent of its 1.69 million people live in the capital, Adelaide. So the overall population density is around 1.7 people per km², and less than 1 person per km² in 94 per cent of the state.
You’re probably wondering why on earth I’m telling you this! Well, experience has taught me that the places you live have a bearing on the person you become. The places you live can shape the way you see the world, live your life, make choices and remember things. The places you live can even influence the way your character is formed, over time.
For example, it means that even now after many years away from SA, no matter where I am in the world, whenever I hear the sound of rain on the roof it’s a sweet song, an uncommon blessing and a reason to be thankful. You see, that’s the way it was when I was young; I grew up in a place that welcomed each raindrop as precious to its survival.
And even now, when I go back to that dry land of wide horizons and vast spaces devoid of human presence, it never fails to tug at something deep in my soul. People say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, where my home state is concerned I would say that’s true, because this feeling has only intensified over the years.
It’s not mere nostalgia; it goes deeper.
For me, it’s as if the land is speaking a singular language that pulls me in with a sharp, wistful, bittersweet longing. It’s as if the land has shaped something at the core of my being that will always respond instinctively—viscerally—to its call. The land of parched beauty deftly sidesteps my brain and heads straight to my heart. All I have to do is smell and feel the baking summer heat on the yellowed crunchy grass. Who knew such things could bring swift tears and a lump to the throat?
Since leaving the land of my formative years I’ve made my home in a seemingly boundless land of open prairies and icy cold winters, in a verdant settled island watered by gently constant rain, and in another island of riotous jungles and cities, teeming with a monsoon of life. My current home nestles among eucalypts that reach for the sky amid a landscape of steep hills and sandstone ridges, where rain, when it comes, pours down hard.
Each place is inextricably linked to a particular time in my life. Each place has left its mark on who I’ve become. Each place will remain an intrinsic part of my narrative, my story.
I’ve moved so often through time and space—pulling myself up by the roots and transplanting myself somewhere new—that it feels like I’ve left scattered traces of myself behind, wherever I’ve been. But I can no more gather up those traces and memories from each place and time, than I can gather up the significant people in my life to be with me right here and now.
The thing is, when I’m at home with my kids and church family and everyday friends nearby, I’m physically separated from my extended family and long-ago friends. And when I’m reconnecting with my extended family and long-ago friends, I’m away from my home and separated from my kids, church family and everyday friends.
So, no matter where I am I can never feel completely at home; the reality always eludes me. I cannot take my past experiences and mash them together to create the ultimate sense of home, because I encountered each place and person at a distinct time in my life. Time, place, people—all of these elements made every one of my homes unique, but nonetheless, temporary.
I’ve learned to accept that the blessing of being completely ‘at home’, of belonging somewhere, will always be elusive. But it’s not only because I’ve moved from place to place. It’s also because this world is not my ultimate home.
You see, as a believer I love and serve a Saviour who had no place to call home, nowhere to feel completely at home. Unlike the fox in its den or the bird in its nest, he had nowhere to lay his head and sleep comfortably in peace (Matt 8:20; Luke 9:58). Jesus was not from, or of, this world (John 1:14) and his life on earth was marked by instability, misunderstanding and danger. He knew what it meant to never quite belong. No matter where, when or with whom, he always faced change, uncertainty and treachery.
And yet he came to dwell among us, sent by God the Father to make his home here, for a time (Matt 1:22-23). Why? He did it so that people like you and me could have somewhere and someone to call ‘home’ forever, where we will always be welcome and belong.
Whoever believes in Jesus as Lord and Saviour receives eternal abundant life now. But Jesus gets busy preparing a room for them in God’s house (John 14:2-3), so that when the time comes to leave, the believer can live with him eternally. This ultimate home is the promised inheritance for every believer—a heavenly home that will never pass away.
And although we’re not there yet and we’ve never even been there, and although it strains our imaginations to picture our ultimate home, God our heavenly Father graciously implants in our hearts a deep yearning for that heavenly home. This yearning can be strongest when we’re suffering, but it’s not a bittersweet longing. Instead it’s an eager waiting for our home (Rom 8:23), and with a certain hope (Heb 6:19) that is firmly founded in the God who keeps his word, who never fails to keep a promise.
Can you be homesick for a place you’ve never been? I think you can.
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