Last week I visited the town where I grew up and stopped by many of my childhood haunts. The street where our family lived. The empty lot where neighborhood kids played croquet. The elementary and high school. My aunt and uncle’s home. Our church. Each place in its place, yet changed in ways that created a yearning in my heart for what is no more.
The same yearning appears each time I work on my mystery novel set in a fictional South Dakota town much like the one where my husband and I lived in the late 70s and early 80s. My heart rejoices while recreating the place and the people. I revel in the sense of being with the old friends, some still living and some dead, made during the years we lived there. But eventually, the phone rings or the clock says it’s time to fix supper, and I must inhabit the present. Each returning is accompanied by a yearning for what is past.
Even in the town where we have lived for 30 years, the longing pulls at my heart. When I pass the block where the school I taught once stood. When I hear of friends, students, or teaching colleagues who have died. When fellow believers who are part of my life and support system move on or move away. When what I hoped would come to pass doesn’t and a lesser thing takes its place.
In The Weight of Glory, C. L. Lewis puts this yearning in its proper context. “In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency….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 worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
This God-given longing, Lewis says, either points us to our eternal home or becomes an idol that eventually breaks our hearts when the idols betray them or lose their allure. Only God offers the eternity we desire because he is the one who placed the longing for it in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
With each loss experienced and each idol discarded, the yearning grow inside us and our sense of displacement swells. We feel increasingly fractured. But we also feel increasingly hopeful. Because we begin to realize that our internal longing points to our eternal home. As the bonds to this world loosen and eternity beckons, we pray ever more fervently and ever more frequently. How long, O God, until you make me whole? How long until you call me home?
Once this prayer of the heart is uttered, in the power of the risen Christ, we return to the kingdom work he has for us on this earth until he answers our prayers and takes us home.