I’m still thinking about the whole question of what makes a place feel like ‘home’. We moved from N.Ireland (our home for more than 30 years) to Switzerland, where we lived for 17 years. Now we have come back ‘home’ – but is it home? What makes a place home?
When I asked this question in an earlier blog, I had these responses from some friends:
‘I would say that “officially” home is wherever your mum lives, but unofficially, and at the risk of sounding rather naff, I would say that home is wherever I’ve found love. ‘
‘Home is anywhere where you can get a decent cup of tea.’
‘Home: A place where you want to go back to no matter where you are in the world because that’s where you feel most comfortable.’
These comments all speak of comfort, of love, of feeling …. at home. When we first arrived back here, I realised that I felt grateful to be home because it meant we had more contact with our families – the chance not only to see them more often, but to be there for them and with them in significant moments – like birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones – the chance to celebrate together, in person, and not just from a distance, the chance to be more involved in one another’s lives. No matter how hard one tries when one lives abroad, it’s just not the same. We don’t have so many conversations and those we do have concentrate on what seem to be the most important things – the less important, day-to-day details of lives are not recounted because they seem too trivial for an international phone call.
Coming home also gives one the chance to meet up with old friends – friends not forgotten, but not seen for years. I was in a local garden centre one day when I spotted an old friend I was at school with – and we hadn’t seen each other for almost 30 years! We have since renewed contact and have been relieved to find we haven’t changed too much – we can still enjoy one another’s company – so much to catch up on…
Coming home is also coming to where you’re understood. On the most basic level, that means the language. We lived in French-speaking Switzerland and although we were both fluent in French – and loved speaking it – it was not our native tongue and therefore we were never ‘at home’ using it. We could understand and be understood – but we were limited. Sometimes we would feel frustrated because we couldn’t find the exact translation of something we wanted to say.
But it’s more than language. It’s understanding the meaning behind what is said, the history, the humour, the culture. Things don’t have to be explained – there is a common, shared understanding of what was and what is. Irish jokes are renowned the world over – but are often misunderstood by the non-Irish. And of course Irish history is a puzzle to most people (sometimes even to the Irish!).
Coming home is also a return to one’s roots. You remember things you had forgotten. Like putting out the rubbish bin each week; like eating potato bread any time you want it (and not just when visitors come from Ireland and bring you some which you then carefully eke out until the next visitors come); like the green, green fields gently undulating as far as the eye can see; like the majestic sea rolling eternally, demonstrating one mood after another; like the weather which constantly changes, not just from one season to the next, but from one day to the next, sometimes from one moment to the next; like hanging out washing and then having to dash out to take it all in again because of the rain; like the phenomenon of the Irish supper – the fourth meal of the day; like enjoying a joke with someone you scarcely know just because there is that common, shared understanding.
I think that, above all, that is what coming home means to me – coming home to a place where I’m understood, where I’m known. But, at the same time, coming ‘home’ has made me aware that there are actually people in Switzerland who know me much better than the new friends I am making here. Which brings me back to an earlier blog and an earlier comment from one of my friends: ‘It’s interesting how much we need to be known – not just by God, but by each other. I think this is why it is possible to feel totally alone in a room full of friendly people.’ There is so much that goes up to make any one of us – over millions of moments over decades of our lives – and we each yearn to share that essential person that is ‘me’, that is ‘you’, with at least one other person.
I was thinking about this yesterday when I came across this interesting concept in an article by Cynthia Bezek and Buddy Westbrook in ‘Discipleship Journal’ (Sept/Oct.2007):
‘Most of us can appreciate how important it is to receive understanding from God. But what about giving understanding? What if God wants to feel understood too? Jeremiah 9:24 says our highest goal should be to know and understand the Lord and what He delights in. Yet Romans 3:11 laments, ‘There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God’.
‘I (Cynthia) happened onto the idea of giving God understanding when I was reading Luke meditatively during my quiet times….I was surpised that I’d never given much thought to how Jesus felt. I knew God was big and didnp’t need my sympathy. But I also knew that He experiences and displays emotions and it seemed self-centred of me not to acknowledge them….I connected deeply with God that day. Since then, giving the Lord understanding has become the most genuine and natural form of worship I’ve ever engaged in. I experience intimacy with Him – like I’m experiencing the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings (Phil.3:10). In those moments I feel like a friend of God.’
Could it be, after all, that what we all long for is to know God and to be known by Him? There is no doubt that He knows us. He said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5). He knew us before we were born! The colour of our eyes, the texture of our skin, who our parents would be, who we would (or would not) marry, the choices we would make in our lives – He knew it all! He knows us – deeply and intimately – like no one else. And He longs that we would know Him too.
‘This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.’ Jeremiah 9:23-24.
Sure, we have a need to know and be known by one another – and God Himself acknowledged this when He said ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18) – He made us for relationship – with one another, but also with Himself. Could it be that we sometimes wrongly expect from others what only God can give us? That we demand of our spouses, our parents, our friends and family what only God can give us? That we yearn to be known by them in an intimate way which is not possible — when all along the God who made us, who knew us before we were born, who numbered the hairs of our heads, is longing that we have that same yearning – to know Him?
‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. ‘ John 17:3.