During the final stages of World War 2 a German friend of ours who was in Intelligence in Italy issued his own set of papers, discharged himself from the crumbling German army, donned civilian clothes and then walked home.
It took him over six weeks. Walking through the alps, dodging military personnel (on both sides), keeping under cover, and somehow getting food, he finally arrived on the outskirts of his home town well north of Frankfurt. But he still didn't know if it was safe to turn up on the doorstep. (His family had been suspected of harbouring Jews, and the family business had been confiscated.)
The younger brother in the Biblical story also wondered if it was safe to go home. After coming to his senses in another country where he had a job feeding pigs (a job highly demeaning to any Jew), and eating their food, he decided to return home. But he had badly treated his father, and he didn't expect to be able to return as a son. Maybe he could go home and be taken on as a servant. How would he be received?
Many people evacuated recently out of Fort McMurray from the reaches of the devastating Alberta wild-fire will be wondering if (and when) it will be safe to go home. Will they have a home left to return to? Will it be safe to live in? What will they find? And millions of Syrian refugees now know the cruel reality that they are homeless, and cannot return to the homes they once knew.
Being 'at home'
Good hosts will tell us to 'make ourselves at home' when we arrive. The ambience and atmosphere of a home will tell us whether we can do that. For some peoplethough, even if they are in their own homes, they cannot be 'at home.' Home is not a safe place; strained relationships mean home becomes an uncertain place, and maybe even somewhere to escape from.
One elderly woman had always had issues with packing her suitcase when she was about to travel. She could not bring herself to do it. She would postpone the packing, and then have great difficulty deciding which items to pack. With help, she found out why. As a child, after her father returned from the war, he was subject to sudden angry outbursts, some of which were directed at his young daughter. He would tell her to go and pack her suitcase, and to get out. Trembling, she had no choice but to obey. Later her mother would find her after she had left the house and bring her home again – till the next time.
A home to go to
There are many reasons why home is not a safe place, or whyit is no longer possible to go home. As human beings we naturally desire to have a place of refuge and comfort; a place where we can be with family; a place where 'we can lay our heads.' (Jesus desired that too – but he did not have a home of his own.) The word 'home' carries so much meaning. To be at home means to belong, and the better the home we have, the more secure we are as people – and then the harder it is to leave it, when inevitably the day comes when we have to. We can be very good at making ourselves at home in this world.
For many people from Fort McMurray, their departure was unplanned and sudden. Their physical home is no more. For all of us though there will come a time – whether it is sudden or planned for – when we have to leave our physical 'home' – our bodies – and go to our eternal home. Will it be safe for us to 'go home'?
Human homes are temporary
No earthly home is permanent, no matter how good it is. Paul, the tent-making apostle, refers to our bodies as being like one of the tents he made; and he well knew that a tent (for most) is a very temporary dwelling place. No matter how much we try, we can never be totally at home in this world. But have we even considered, let alone planned for, going to our eternal home? And are we concerned about others going there too?
A friend of mine was driving home from the hospital where he had been with his mother as she had taken her last breath. Reflecting on that poignant and emotional time he agonised, 'Where is she now?' He couldn't bear to think any more, so he turned on the car radio. It happened to be tuned to a Christian radio station (his wife who was a Christian had just used his car), only to hear a song being played, titled 'Safe in his care.' He then knew without a doubt that his mother was indeed safe in the care of God, at home with him. This friend went on to discover that God for himself.
Some time ago my husband and I visited a very old uncle of his. As we entered the living room we asked the old man how he was. He rose slowly to his feet, and responded warmly, "I'm one day closer to going home."
Not all of us are sure about whether it is safe to go home. But we need only consider the welcome that the younger brother got from his father in the Biblical story. His father ran (yes, ran – unthinkable for a man of prestige in that society), threw his arms around his son, ordered a hum-dinger of a party, and welcomed his wayward boy back as a full member of the family. What a home-coming that was!That 'welcome home' can await us too – if we want it.
Liz Hay is relieved to be finally be at home again in her small mountain village an hour away from Christchurch, NZ, after some weeks away. She and her husband, Ron, have three adult children, five grandchildren, and share a love of literature and the outdoors. Her working life has included a wonderful mix of teaching, editing and writing, various office jobs, along with all sorts of ministry opportunities.
Liz Hay's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/liz-hay.html