As bright white snow fell through a dark sky, my friend Jared and I walked out of church where our young adult small group met.
"So my grandpa died this past week," Jared told me as we walked to our cars.
"Oh really? I’m sorry," I said.
"It was brain cancer. I didn’t mention it tonight cause I didn’t want to take away from what was already being said," he further explained.
What Jared was referring to was sobering news as well. After Tom, our small group leader asked us how our week had been, he told us how his was miserable. This past week his good friend had a seizure, and after some tests the doctors discovered his body was riddled with cancer. "He’s got three children all under the age of 12," Tom told us with glossy eyes. "He knows it’s not good news. I talked to him the other day, and he mentioned how he knows he probably won’t be able to watch his children grow up and get married."
When Tom finished speaking, a group member told us about an 18-year-old man that his Dad’s co-worker knew who recently found out he had cancer as well.
I think we can all agree that there is nothing natural about cancer. Something isn’t right about discovering your 18-year-old son or brother might die soon. And everything is wrong with the sight of a six-year-old girl holding flowers while she decorates the coffin her daddy is laying in …years later to shed a few tears on her wedding day because she has no father to walk her down the aisle.
Deep down inside of us we know things aren’t right on this spinning sphere we call earth. We contain an inner yearning for somewhere pure, safe and everlasting. As if put inside of us without our permission, we possess an eternal ache that resides in the parts of us where groans are birthed. We inwardly long for somewhere better. For home.
I saw this clearly only a few nights ago. I work in a group home with children who, for a number of different reasons, aren’t living with their original family. I sat at the kitchen table beside a crying, eight-year-old girl who told me, "I don’t belong here."
"What do you mean you don’t belong here?" I asked.
She told me she belongs with her biological family, with the aunt that raised her. I try to make the six children I live with feel at home, but I know that in the end, I’ll never be completely successful, because these children have a cavernous inner ache to be home—to be with the people that created them. We aren’t different than that eight-year-old girl who didn’t feel she belonged where she was. Like her, we all have an insatiable longing in our hearts to be with the One who created us.
Some would rather ignore the fact that we don’t belong to this world; myself included many times. Yet we only do ourselves a disservice if we try to convince our hearts this world is what we were meant for. Often, we want to believe this world isn’t all that bad—that maybe we are compatible with it after all. So we buy the white picket fences, latest technological gadgets and perhaps get married and start a family, while looking forward to our retirement. And maybe all that is fine, unless we are depending on those things for a safe, predictable and comfort filled life experience in replace of a life ordered by the God who often asks us to do many unsafe, unpredictable and uncomfortable things.
Yet, as it usually happens, when we least expect it, something wakes us up from all of our American dreams. Perhaps our oldest sister is paralyzed from the neck down from a car accident; and we were the driver. Or we go on a short-term mission’s trip and gawk in wonder at a mother looking for food in a garbage dump. Or our dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we start to bawl as we think of how insane it is we are making a list of things to do with him before his “seven months are up."
When we experience moments like these, things like the size of our bank account, or our fears of never finding Mr. or Mrs. Right, or whether we are well liked by others all become suddenly, temporarily, insignificant. For it is times like these that resonate with something deep inside of us and confirms: "There’s no way this world can be home for me. I’m not home."
Before Jesus handed His life over to be killed, He told His disciples, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world …" (John 15:19, TNIV).
Jesus’ message seemed to stick with the early church. Three times in Peter’s first epistle he calls Christians “Strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1, 17; 2:13, TNIV). Paul calls Christians, "Citizens of Heaven" (Philippians 1:27, TNIV). The writer of Hebrews says the early followers of God freely admitted they were "Foreigners and strangers on earth." And continues, "People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16, TNIV).
And in that city, no more tears will be shed, funerals attended or cancer to be diagnosed. Children will joyfully dance with flowers in hand, shining like the bright white snow that once fell from our former dark sky. God will make his dwelling with us and because of that, we will be home. For the true home of the children of God is not so much a place, as it is a Person.
2 Corinthians 5:1