Tonight i did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I found an old, old hymnal – one from back when I was just a child in church. I sat at the piano and started playing through some of those old hymns of my youth. Most of them no one sings anymore, unless they’re surrounded by rocking chairs on a Bill Gaither Homecoming video.
As I sat and sang, a wave swept over me that at first I chalked up to nostalgia. Then I began realizing it was something more than that. I was overcome by a melancholy longing. But not for the past so much, but like the past, a place that no longer exists on this earth.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to a simpler time and place in my life. This world scares me quite often nowadays. So much of what happens seems counter-intuitive to me, and I don’t understand much of the inhumanity I see around me. I can make little sense of the direction the human race is going. I do my little part to help, but so often I feel like I’m bailing water on the Titanic…with a spoon.
There was a time I lived in security. I was in the culture and region in which I’d been raised. People then generally took many of the same values for granted. I was loved and appreciated and my contribution was rewarded.
But it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be on the front lines of what God was doing. It all seemed too safe, too easy, and in many ways, it was. I longed for a spiritual adventure, and my safe, secure home seemed backward. I could shine there, but only so much. There were well-defined limits on what I was doing and how far I could go. Stay within the boundaries, you get rewarded.
“That’s right – good boy.”
I grew to resent the boundaries, and they began to resemble a prison cell. I’d like to say I left because I could clearly see that new person I was destined to be, but I’d be lying. I had no idea where I was going. I simply knew that there was more inside me, and it would never get out if I stayed put.
So I left.
I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to now. My life is productive and God is using me in a greater way than ever before. But that’s not as warm and fuzzy as it sounds.
The problem is, I don’t feel half as confident and secure as I did in that happy home I once had. I still pine away for that safe home, but that’s not because what I’m doing now isn’t important. It’s because it just felt so good to be in a place where you knew you could easily exceed expectations. I was a winner, and it felt good. Now I’m stretched and unsure that I’ve got what it takes in my brave new world.
Somewhere along the way I prayed that silly Jabez prayer like every other Christian those days, “Increase my territory!” Little did I realize the sacrifice I would be making to do that. To increase my territory, God had me leave behind my success and everything familiar.
The upside is ever since that day, I have grown as a person, and my abilities have blossomed into things I never thought I could do.
The flip side is I don’t know that I’ll ever feel “at home” again. I feel lost, wandering through a dark, misty wood, trying to find the path home. And even if I could find it, I’m not sure now God would want me to take it. Right now, I’m a pilgrim. I’m a missionary, far from any real home.
I think it was CS Lewis who talked about how proof of heaven is that your soul longs for a place it’s never really been. I don’t know if he’s right, but I think I finally understand now why so many old timers loved singing those hymns about heaven. From so many of those old songs, I’ve always heard how I shouldn’t feel at home on this earth. “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through…” The idea is that when I came to Christ, I became the citizen of a far away Kingdom. The time I have left on this earth is to be spent doing the work of my King, though I’m doing it here in exile.
If all that’s true, then I guess I really should be feeling a little lost and lonesome for home. And the hymns from hundreds of days spent sitting in the darkly-stained pews of my youth call to me like the howl of a wolf wandering through the chilly night. I sit and sing them, longing for a home I’ve never seen.
Maybe one day soon, I’ll find my way back home, pushing my way through that eastern sky. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t give up the good fight until God says it’s my time. But as soon as He does, I’m ready. I’m so ready to sing those songs again in a place of secure love, sitting in my Father’s lap.
“By and by, when the morning comes…”