The Problem with the ‘Forever Home’

Priorities

The first home I remember was a rental house in Wilmington, Delaware. I still hazily recollect our black-and-white TV lighting up a darkened family room with the news that our country’s young president had been shot. It was my earliest memory.

My next home was a modest split-level in Heritage Park, a tidy neighborhood in the nearby suburb of Newark. Most of my fondest childhood memories were gathered there—including the summer evening my father fired his baseball glove at a speeding car, which stopped, allowing Dad to chew out the driver for endangering his children.

As Dad moved up the corporate ladder, we moved into a handsome two-story dwelling in the Hills of Skyline. When the infrequent snows of winter arrived, we sometimes couldn’t get our cars up the icy hill in front of the house. I remember crashing my sled more than once as I unsuccessfully tried to navigate a 90-degree turn.

Then came the big move to Boca Raton, Florida. Our new home was a white, single-story affair with a pool, within easy walking distance of the beach and a nine-hole golf course (which I made extensive use of). Then came college, with dorm and apartment living. Yes, occasionally I ate cold pizza for breakfast.

When Christine and I got married, our first home was a triplex in Fort Lauderdale, where we encountered a rat and some screaming neighbors. When we moved to South Carolina for grad school, the insulation in our apartment was such that the curtains rustled with the wind even when the windows were closed. I won’t dwell on the termites that flew out of the wall or the gang fight in the parking lot. I remember huddling one night with Christine in the central hallway, listening to the portable radio, while the edge of Hurricane Hugo swept by, bending the trees nearly sideways.

Then there was our apartment in Wheaton—so close to the College Avenue station that you had to pause your conversation while the train passed—followed by our townhome, followed by our comfortable (but rather homely) raised ranch, where we buried one of our cats and where a beautiful volunteer redbud took up residence in our back yard despite our best efforts to kill it.

So I’m not surprised to hear that people in the United States will move, on average, 11.4 times in their lifetimes. I am surprised, however, that more and more of us are referring to our houses as “forever homes.” As my experience illustrates, there is no “forever home,” at least in this world.

So why do we do it? Yes, there’s some good ole American marketing involved. The HGTV network, and the real estate industry, benefit by promising to fulfill our deepest longings. We’ll spend prodigious amounts of time and money to outfit our “dream homes” with the latest tile backsplashes or designer bathrooms. Yet such things cannot satisfy—at least not forever.

In The Sacrament of Evangelism, Jerry Root and I point out that most people have built-in longings. Among them are yearnings for love, holiness, and meaning. These longings find their fulfillment when we find God, who is their ultimate source. As Augustine said, speaking out of personal experience, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.

A persistent longing across time and culture is the desire for home, which Jerry and I call the pilgrim longing. Evelyn Underhill called it “the longing to go out from [our] normal world in search of a lost home, a ‘better country’; an Eldorado.” We see it formally in the pilgrimages of Muslims who go on the hajj to Mecca, in the throngs of Roman Catholics who visit the Vatican, and in the many evangelical tour groups to the Holy Land.

C.S. Lewis describes in his autobiography how his own sense of longing—which he called “joy”—was awakened when he read Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods and saw one of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations.

…Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago. …And with that plunge back into my own past, there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country, and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss….

In my own life, I have experienced something similar. One of the advantages of living in the Midwest is the opportunity to see Lake Michigan and its shorelines of dramatic Karst topography in Door County and the soaring, sandy vistas of Sleeping Bear Dunes. As a former resident of the Sunshine State, the idea of an inland sea that is transformed every year from the ice of long, dark winters to the sparkling green and blue waters of summer fills me with both awe and dread.

At the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, after all the fearsome battles have been fought and won, the hobbits finally get to return to their beloved Shire, expecting to resume their peaceful lives. Instead, they discover that the traitor wizard, Saruman, and his slimy henchman, Grima Wormtongue, have crept in and taken control of their once-cozy homeland. The hobbits must strap on their swords again. Even the Shire cannot satisfy their deepest longings. Eventually Frodo must leave Middle Earth altogether.

We know, despite all our prattling about “forever homes,” that the world we see is only temporary, a stopping point on the way to our true destination. G.K. Chesterton pointed out that people are “homesick in their homes,” and, as Jerry and I added, “He knew that every time we lay our heads on our pillows at the end of the day, we lay them down in a foreign land.”

So let’s politely decline to engage in the secular nonsense of the “forever home.” It’s bound to disappoint. Instead, let’s look forward to the only Home that will satisfy our deepest longings … and last forever.

 

Stan Guthrie, a licensed minister, is an editor at large for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Stan is the author, with Jerry Root, of The Sacrament of Evangelism.


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