Home for the Holidays
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV)
I love talking to some of our college students over the Christmas break because it is always interesting to get their reports from home. Some of these students are freshmen and sophomores that couldn’t wait to get home to see their families and friends just a few days ago. But what generally happens is about three days into the break, students get bored and frustrated with what they found when they came home. These students dream of a holiday experience that will include warmth, joy, comfort, and love to the fullest measure. But what happens is they usually find a familiar place that doesn’t quite measure up to the longings that existed just a few days earlier. I believe this is due to the fact that we never truly feel “at home” in our world, yet we maintain this insatiable desire for such a place. Thus, our students will return back to campus not feeling at home in a dorm, but confused about where their place in this world truly is. Many of them will also return feeling that their trip home was somewhat of a failure when compared to the expectations it once carried.
This is not only true for college students. For me personally, I realized that this year is the first year that I will not have the option of being “home for Christmas.” Last year Becca and I spent Christmas in Houston with her family, so this year is back to spending Christmas with my family (these are common exchanges in marriage that make life complicated). While I will be with part of my family this Christmas, I will not be going “home.” That is because my parents moved this last year from my hometown and the only other place, aside from Waco, that I have ever lived. While a house does not make a home, it does help to awake your senses to distant memories that were once forgotten. And yet, when I think about this holiday season, I know that even returning “home” would leave me feeling a bit empty, much like our college students will experience.
Tim Keller talks about this very issue in The Prodigal God when he says, “The memory of home seems to be powerfully evoked by certain sights, sounds and even smells. But they can only arouse a desire they can’t fulfill.” He goes on to imply that any return home to the physical place you remember will most often end with a sense of loss and dissatisfaction. His comments are made in reference to John Steinbeck’s famous book called East of Eden. And I believe this is the metaphor that sums up why we have such high hopes and expectations before returning home only to be met with the reality of the here and now. It is because nothing in this world can truly satisfy the deep longing we have for our true home, which is with God. We all have a distant memory of having deep communion with God in the Garden, and nothing seems to quench our thirst to return to such a time. This is why in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 the Apostle Paul compares our current bodies to “a tent” and says this life is nothing compared to our “eternal house in heaven.” He even says that we receive this longing, or groaning, as a deposit that is guaranteeing what is to come.
But so often we are left with nothing more than disappointment and an unmet desire after the holidays because we have confused the purpose of these longings in the first place. C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.” I know that Christmas can be a time of limitless anticipation that is met with disheartening results, but my hope for you this seasons is that you will recognize the purpose of your deep longings and understand that these desires cannot and will not be met on this side of eternity. This realization allows you to enjoy the holidays for what they are and helps you to understand how these moments are, as Ecclesiastes would say, “beautiful in [their] time.” And my prayer is that you would hold out great hope and anticipation for the day we truly all return home once and for all.