Our Painful Relationship with Home

Exiles of Eden

Home is like a ghost— existing just out of reach—unattainable but unforgettable. A desire for a home is so deeply rooted, it seems essential to life. And yet no matter how pleasant the place we live, that longing is never satisfied. Like a ghost, this desire will not leave us alone. The only way to reconcile our bittersweet yearning for home is to learn how to live in the tension we feel.

When we speak about home, we are really talking about life, because home, in all its grit and glory, is the canvas where life happens. Home is that delightful magic that takes an ordinary place and transforms it into a place where you belong. At home we find the simple charms of living - coffee, fresh baked bread, fireplaces - which in themselves are so small as to be almost nothing. And yet, they are immeasurably important, the bones that hold us up. These delights of life are the lingering last notes of a song; that song was the perfect home we lost in Eden. And now, like all earthly things, home falls short of what it could be. Conflict, loss, poverty, and other ills abound. Home, we find, is another thread of the creation, fall, redemption tapestry of the Gospel. An ideal home does not fool us into thinking it is our permanent residence, but rather, it takes on just enough qualities of Eden to keep our hearts looking forward to our future reunion with Christ.

Echoes of Eden

Over the past three months, I have been semi-nomadic. My experience with home lately has been chaotic and tumultuous. For six weeks, I lived in my friends’ unfinished basement in a tent. There was something oddly homey about this tent—it reflected the place I vacated, with its books, shelves, and a memento or two. Our earthly homes are much the same way. As exiles of Eden, we try to recreate the qualities of that perfect home we lost.

Understanding home as God originally designed it can help us to understand what we were, and are, meant for. God made Eden as a place where life thrived, and where people flourished. In particular there were three aspects of the garden that supported human flourishing: place, purpose, and people.

After God created Adam in Genesis 2, the next thing He did was to create Eden, Adam’s home. The Lord filled the garden with good things: trees with delicious fruit, rivers, and rare stones. Our hearts feel most at home in a beautiful space, because God made us to enjoy and dwell in beauty. This beauty can be personal. I love gardens, wood floors, and rooms with lots of windows. For you, an attractive home may look different. It is the space itself that is important.

Later in verse 15, God put man into the Garden to work and keep it. In perfection, there was stewardship. God made us to be active agents in His world. We flourish as we help the world around us flourish. The possibilities for this are numerous: I know many people who keep vegetable gardens, or raise chickens in their back yards. One woman I know spins her own wool and makes blankets for the house. I know an engineer who creates efficient spaces within his home. We are rooted to place: we are drawn to its beauty, and we desire to protect it. But nothing is so important to home as the people we share life with.

Often quoted, in Genesis 2:18 God says, "It is not good for man to be alone." In God’s order, love produces life in us and in the world around us. We need companionship, and the good things God created are more fully enjoyed when we share them with others. This happens through community, whether through family or the larger communities in which we live. We long for days with no more broken and lonely hearts.

Having a healthy nostalgia towards Eden can help us understand our restlessness for the world God intended. Most importantly, Eden is where we walked with God, our heart’s greatest desire. To remember Eden is to remember Him, and through those memories to remind ourselves of the future restoration He promises.

Remembering Calypso after the Fall

The poet Tennyson said, "Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." But while loving and losing may be the better choice, it is also the more painful one. Talking about the ideal of Eden is wonderful, until the real world hits and we realize we can never work hard enough to bring Eden back. This loss is what is so particularly painful about home.

To me, the pain of losing Eden is like the pain of losing a loved one. When I stumble on their picture, or see a sweater they wore all the time, my heart lurches at the memory. There are some forms of grief we should hold close to our hearts—they are precious because of what they represent. These sorrows come concurrently with joy. We cannot have the goodness of Eden or of God’s Restoration, without the pain now. An empty ideal, full of sentimental promises, can be more treacherous than suffering.

The physical and spiritual needs of the world, and the loss of Eden, should break our hearts. They should keep us longing for Christ to restore the earth. How does the knowledge that this is not our true home change how we live today? How much of our energy is spent on crafting comfortable earthly homes? How much of our time and effort do we expend on achieving good things for ourselves now? God has given us many blessings, and these are good to enjoy without shame. However, it is worth remembering that we don’t need to work toward our own material good now, because God is working for our future good. J.R.R. Tolkien, says: "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater."((Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.)) Since love is mingled with grief, let us learn to live with our grief. Sometimes, our greatest hopes hurt us.

During Odysseus’s long and treacherous journey, Calypso offers him a reprieve from his struggle to return home, and temporarily helps him forget his wife. Calypso retains Odysseus for eight years, his greatest distraction. Sometimes Satan confronts us with trials, but often, he tries to convince us there is nothing wrong at all. God made us for a beautiful world, with perfect relationships, a sense of belonging, and a role in supporting the flourishing of life. To remember these things will cause heartache, but to forget them for empty pleasures here, is to forget who we are.

Living in the Tension

Living with grief is not easy; in fact, it is impossible. The only way we can manage it is through Christ Himself, who gives us comfort and strength. He has brought about our hope, and He reminds us of His promise. From Eden we shape our ideals of home as God intended it to be. However, in the reality of the loss of perfection, these ideals are unattainable (And anyone who says otherwise is selling something).

So what should our homes look like now while we wait? Here are a few characteristics that offer at least a place to start building a healthy (fallen) home.

In a world full of pain, home should be a place that supports recovery and healing. Home should be a place where you can cry. There is conflict at home too, but it is important to be able to learn to heal, and to forgive, at home. Home should be a place that does not actively perpetuate temptation or sin. For instance, a struggling alcoholic would best not take residence in a bar. Though we can’t eliminate sin from our lives, homes that encourage deep-rooted habits of sin and addictive behaviors are a cancer to home and those within it.

Home should be hospitable – in the largest sense of the word. Not only should we have open doors and invite people into our homes, but those within a home should also be hospitable towards each other. The more we practice openness and vulnerability, the more others can come alongside us to encourage and support. Homes where people have walls between one another become places where growth is slowed, and we lose our ability to live fruitfully in the tension of beauty and pain.

Home is phantasmal. We long for the ideal of home and are ever searching for Eden, but our hearts will not find their rest until Christ returns. Till that time, we should pursue beauty, but accept pain, and constantly remember the hope for home that we have in Christ’s promise to us. The best that home can do on earth is to remind us of the true goodness we long for, but not to pretend to satisfy our desires. If we spend our lives listening to those echoes of Eden which bounce around in our very own rafters, then we may find that, like Psyche in C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, we can say, "The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing [for home]… to find the place where all the beauty came from… For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."((Lewis, C.S. Till We Have Faces. Orlando: Harcourt Books, 1984.)) Though now we are exiles in a distant land, we know that one day we will return home.


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