There’s nothing like a season of travel to make you appreciate home.
We spent Christmas with one family, New Year’s with the other. Paused briefly for a week to unpack and pack, then jetted off for a vacation to sunnier climes. Timing wasn’t ideal, but that’s how the planning shook down. Each brought celebration and relaxation in its own way. But together they added up to a lot of time away.
Coming home proved as bumpy as airplane turbulence. The boys were both off sleep schedules and routines. The Christmas decorations and presents and toys all clamored to be put away. The poor beagle nearly starved himself to death in our absence.
It took us a while to get used to being home again.
As we settle back in chez nous, calendars flipped to a brand-new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about home. What defines a home. What creates a home. How we know it when we find it.
Home is place. Here is where we live. The address we fill out on endless forms. The location where we can be found. The building and bed where we lay our head at day’s end.
Home is sights and smells: the ever-changing collection of our worldly goods. Home is the colors we love, the things we treasure. Even the quirks of aging houses or cranky appliances. We know the flaws of home, and we learn to embrace them, too.
Home is shelter. Protection from the weather and the dangers outside. Home is haven, refuge. The proverbial roof over our heads.
Home is outside and inside. Gardens and lawns we spend hours tending, familiar windows we glimpse from the street below. The lights that welcome us through the darkness, the driveway our car pulls to by instinct, the door that leads into another world.
I remember a photo of my parents bringing me home from the hospital, pausing at our doorway to capture the threshold moment. We have similar photos for our babies, too. Born of a desire to memorialize the passage from outer to inner life, their entrance into the place they will spend their earliest days. Home is sacred.
Home is people. Here is where we spend the most time with those closest to us. Where we bump up against each other, literally and figuratively. Where we learn to love and live with other’s faults.
Home is those with whom we share our most intimate moments. Sex and sickness. Fights and feasting. Growing and grieving. When we take off our coats to come inside, we leave our defenses behind, too. Home is people who protect us, who share our vulnerability.
When we miss home, it is most often the familiar faces that we long for, not the physical plant. Home is the people we come from and those we return to. Whether we choose to create a life together or whether life thrusts arrangements upon us, we are home for each other.
Home is practices. Here is where we celebrate our rituals: the daily rhythms of eating, sleeping, playing and praying. Here is the space for acting out what it means to be partner, parent, family, friend.
Home is the way we cook our food. The way we entertain guests. The way we relax after work. The way we celebrate holidays.
Through our practices – songs, meals, games, hobbies, chores – we practice being home to each other. Along the way, our life together becomes a home with a life of its own.
And because home is place (where we live) and people (with whom we live) and practices (how we live), home holds something of God for us as well. The God in whom we live and move and have our being.
Home is where we first learn about God, for better or for worse.
Our image of the divine is shaped by those who care for us in our early years and those with whom we choose to spend the remaining. Whether we learn about love or judgment, forgiveness or fear, we learn about God at home in a way that we never could in church.
Because home life is real and raw. Because a weekly hour or two spent in four walls of a church can’t compare to the hours spent at home. Because living together as family – spouses or siblings, parents or children, blended or extended – is the core community for most Christians.
Home is the places and people and practices we are from. And those we create for ourselves. So the work we do to make a home is no small thing.
It shapes the face of God for those around us.