Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Can Never Go Home

This past weekend I went home for Easter to visit my family. My mother lives less than a mile from the Bible College my wife and I graduated from 23 years ago. On Saturday I decided to stroll through the deserted campus, the students were all home for the Easter break. 

As I walked through the campus I found myself in a reminiscing sort of mood. I looked towards my old dorm and mentally marked the windows of the three different rooms that had been my home for three years.  I inspected the Gazebo that our senior class had donated. And I visited the step where I sat with a pretty girl who agreed that we should try dating for a while. She eventually would become my wife.

As I wandered around I walked up to the chapel and found the doors unlocked. As I walked in and took a seat a steady stream of memories began to come back to me. The room was much the same as it always had been. The chairs were still the same from my days as a student and I wondered if the chair I was sitting on was one that remembered me from before.

This was the building I had spent at least four days a week from 11:00 to 12:00 worshipping God and listening to people expound the Bible. As well as regular chapel, every year we set aside time for prayer: a weekend of prayer in September, a week of prayer in January, and another weekend in March. In addition to the seasons of prayer there was the missionary convention and many other special meetings, too many for me to recall. It struck me that I had spent as much if not more time in that chapel than I had the classroom. This was the hottest part of the crucible that was melting and reforming us for service to God.

I was reminded that this was also the chapel in which my wife (then girlfriend) and I both were commissioned into ministry and received our diplomas. We would be married a year later. In the mean time we looked forward with expectation to our future together and with the Lord. We were full of enthusiasm and knowledge. We knew so much more then than we know now. We had the answers that the world needed. And we were ready to meet that world and bring Jesus to it.

I remembered that it was here too that I preached the ordination service for my father. It was also here, just a few short years later, that we gathered together with friends and family to beg God to spare my father and heal him of cancer.

As I sat there I mumbled these memories out loud to God. Not as a prayer, but as a sort of walk down memory lane with God. It had been at least 14 years since I had been in that chapel, and though it looked much the same, I knew that I was not the same. Life had not taken us in the directions we had planned. We had lived in different states and different countries and ended up in different places, both geographically and spiritually, that we never anticipated. We had experienced great joy and love together. And we had experienced disappointment, disillusionment and frustration.

As I stood there I couldn’t help but think “I wish I knew now what I knew then.” We knew so much back then. We had so much more knowledge, confidence, security. But life and God had brought us to the point that we now know even less, we are much less confident. We are much less sure of ourselves and God.

They say you can never go home again. It’s not that home is different; it is you that is different. I suppose the same is true when you leave your spiritual/theological home, whether it is a school, a church or someplace else. When you return to that home you have many pleasant memories, but you also realize that you have changed so much and that it would be impossible to go back. Like the chairs in that chapel, you recognize that your home, the place where you were raised, is not all that different. But you are. Experience and time has distanced you from that part of your life, from that time. And no matter how much you wish you knew now what you knew then, you know it’s impossible to go back. It’s no longer home.

As I left the chapel I raised a brief prayer to God. I said; “Lord, I don’t know where we are going and how we will get there, but I hope that you will be there with us."

We know so much less now than we did. I think that is probably a good thing. 


  1. You nailed the truth when you said home doesn't change; we change.

    The past never changes. It's only the lens through which we view it that changes. Some days the kens us smudged with tears; the next, rose-colored and beauty-filled.

    And trust me: it does not take fourteen years of absence.

    Thanks for the glimpse.

  2. Very well written.. I so agree w/ you & have thought similar myself for quite some time.

  3. Wow. Spot on. Every time I return home, I realize how God has shaped and molded me on this journey called life. Thanks for pointing out why I feel "out of sorts" when I return home.

  4. John, you'll never know how timely your blog is for me. It really spoke something personally that maybe one day I'll be able to share with you and your wife. Blessings, Edie Veach Mourey

  5. One hundred percent resonation here. My spiritual home no longer feels like "home" to me since I started seminary. I knew so much then, and yeah, I definitely "had the answers that the world needed" and was pretty sure of them. Now I realize, I don't know very much at all, and I don't have more than an answer or two. And yet, the odd part is, I can't go back to what I knew then, because I know too much now. A very strange progression, or is it really a progression?

  6. This made me sad. I want to believe that although we dreamed more, and have maybe let the world influence us a little to much.....well, I want to believe that the past gives people more hope, not less...more insight to God, not less, more confidence, not less and made them more sure of themselves AND GOD, not less. I wan to be more, not less than I was in "those" days. I want people to put away the thoughts that they knew more then...because faith...faith is the belief in what we can't see, and don't know. Faith is knowing the unsure feeling, the can't go home feeling is because we have another home that doesn't need a past, at all. ~Angela

  7. John, thank you for sharing your heart. I can relate to your observations. "We knew so much more than we know now." How true that is in my life. I don't know a lot anymore. I find myself saying more and more that I embrace the mystery.