While I was in prayer this past Saturday, God really laid on my heart this idea of coming home. I was thinking about an experience I had with my friend, Pastor Milton Doyle. A few years back, Milton accompanied me on a trip to Katito, Kenya. It was his first trip ever to Africa.
As a white man, I can’t fully step into my brother’s shoes nor his experience of returning to the continent from which his ancestors originated. Knowing that years ago, his people were forcefully removed from the continent and brought to America against their will and now returning after years in diaspora, is something I imagine would be quite overwhelming.
I think the highlight of that trip for me was something that happened at a gift shop outside the Maasai Mara. A Maasai woman approached my friend, took him by the hand, looked into his eyes and said, “Welcome home!” To witness this genuine display of welcome, to see my brother received by his long lost sister, is just something that even I cannot adequately express in words. It was just awesome to be there in that moment.
In just a couple of weeks, I will be in the city of my ancestors. Brenda and I have been saving airline miles forever in order to take a trip to Ireland and Scotland. Back in the 1400’s, my ancestors left Cork, Ireland for the new world. I can’t tell you why they immigrated, whether it was famine, persecution or economic opportunity. But I know that it takes great courage to leave everything you’ve ever known in order to step into the great unknown. Most times, it’s pain - the hardship - that people are enduring that finally becomes the great impetus for a major migration like the one they took.
I do know our family name remains strong in Cork. I have family there - family many generations removed - that don’t know me nor do I know them. But they are my people. I find myself wondering, will I see people who look like me? Will there be obvious family traits after all these years? Will they share my values? Will they see me as one of their own?
Quite honestly, I’ve never thought of myself as belonging to a people, having a tribe or being from a particular place. That is until recently when my wife decided to gift me a DNA test to determine my ancestry. 100% European was the result with the dominant people group being Irish. Of course, it makes sense now that I know about my own lineage and the fact that my mother’s family hailed from Cork.
I don’t know quite what to expect on this trek to my place of origin. I know that God has arranged (because I certainly didn’t make our travel arrangements with this in mind) that I will be in Cork with my mother on the same day. It will be the first and only time we have ever been in the city where her parents, many generations removed, once lived. I suspect God is up to something with this serendipitous arrangement but I don’t know what.
I sincerely doubt that I will receive the greeting my friend did in Africa. It might well be that in their eyes, I will be just another American tourist. I really don’t know what I might learn or experience. But I’m very interested in knowing what it is about this place - this people - that still remains in me as residual of generations that formed their identity in being Irish.
But what all this really did for me was get me thinking about the truth that there’s a part of us all that longs for home – that place where we belong – that place where we are known, loved and welcomed.
There is an ache in our soul for Eden – a faint memory in our collective unconscious – that there once was a place where we all belonged. It was a very special place where we were known fully and loved completely. It was a place where we walked with God in an unhindered way. It was a place where our most treasured relationships flourished.
And since the day our original ancestors left that place, in the words of Crosby, Stills and Nash, our lives have been a constant struggle to “…get ourselves back to the garden.” We ache for that place of belonging again. This longing never goes away nor is it diminished with the passage of time. In fact, if anything, it only gets stronger.
In their book, The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge write, “In all our hearts lies a longing for a Sacred Romance. It will not go away in spite of our efforts over the years to anesthetize or ignore its song, or attach it to a single person or endeavor. It is a Romance couched in mystery and set deeply within us. It cannot be categorized into propositional truths or fully known.”
Philosophers call this romance, this heart yearning set within us, the longing for transcendence; the desire to be part of something larger than ourselves, to be part of something out of the ordinary that is good.
The Bible says it like this in Ecclesiastes 3.11, “God has set eternity in our hearts, without which no one would seek God.”
Quite simply, you and I were made to long for home. We often transpose this desire onto places in our heart; where we grew up, our grandparent’s farm or our country of origin. But the desire is greater than that. These places fall short of our deepest longings. It’s only through the rosy glasses of nostalgia that these places take on the surreal quality of perfection. There are good memories, for sure – special moments that we will treasure forever – but beneath the glow of faded memories, there is a reality that argues against perfection.
We were made to hunger for more than a place where we once lived. God is forever calling us back to Himself – to find our home in His heart – to know that what Eden had is still available with Him. We can be fully known and completely loved. We can walk with Him every day. We can begin to experience relationships as He intended.
What God has in store for us makes our best days on Earth look like terrible hardship. Let me close with these words of Paul to the Corinthians, “Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” 2 Corinthians 5.3-5 (The Message)