Not (usually) because I’m stumbling home drunk. No, I know where my house is, and how to navigate my way through the city’s night bus network. I don’t tend to spend much time at my house. It’s rare to find myself cooking there more than once a week, laundry builds up until I run out of pants and can’t justify buying any more, and when I lost my keys I didn’t notice for a good four days. I’m not looking for house.
I look for home.
I look for safety, security and stability. I look for the place I can take off the mask. And that’s never really a place. As a perceptive friend said to me recently, I ‘pursue friendships like they need to be caught and captured’. He’s right, I do. It’s taken me a while to realise that’s not entirely normal, that other people possibly hold back a little more, take a little longer, feel less immediately and intensely. But I can’t help it, I’m addicted and restless and ever unsatisfied.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some great experiences of home.
Last weekend, I found myself sat around a table with 11 of the most beautiful-souled people I’ve ever come across. A group of artists, story-tellers, prophets, dreamers of a better world and lovers of the poor. With wine filling my glass, pulled pork piled high on a platter, and laughter bouncing off the wooden ceiling beams, I couldn’t have felt more at home.
A couple of days ago, physically exhausted and emotionally drained, I hauled myself and a few heavy suitcases across London and onto a train headed north. The sweaty Northern line, the endless flights of stairs and the aching arms and eyelids, all worth it. Because a couple of hours later, I was there: in a house I didn’t know, but a home I felt deep inside. Glass of wine in one hand, tea in the other, dog on my lap and cuddled up to Dad. Mask off my face, weight off my chest, home.
I came home from church yesterday to the perfectly nostalgic smell of a Sunday roast filling the house, Mum finishing off the gravy in the kitchen, the kittens nestled with my brother and sister around the glowing Christmas tree lights. We talked, we ate, we laughed in that way that only families can… Home.
They’re all pictures, dimly lit but beautiful pictures, of the truest homecoming of all.
Jesus told a story of a boy who thought home was tedious, tiresome and restricted his freedom. He wanted to break free, enjoy everything the world could throw at a young man with money: the parties, the feasts, the wine, the girls, the adrenaline, the recklessness… perhaps, like me, he sought connection, people to share the moment with, people whose hearts raced with his, people searching and longing as he searched and longed.
Perhaps it worked for a while. Perhaps he found people on his wavelength, people to make memories with. Til the hangover hit and the buzz wore off. So he pushed further, broke more rules, spent more money, took more of anything to make it last. It didn’t. It couldn’t. Exhausted, hurt, alone, he hit rock bottom. And he thought of home.
Home, where no-one abandoned him when he ran out of money. Home, where no-one used him for a cheap thrill. Home, where no-one pressured him and no-one resented him and no-one left him to go hungry. Home, where a roof over his head and a hot meal and a ‘how was your day?’ didn’t depend on being good enough or cool enough or hot enough or funny enough. Home, where grace was the language and forgiveness was the currency and love was the bricks and mortar.
He came to his senses and took a deep breath and he dared to believe there could be grace enough for him. And we know the end of the story – the running father, outpouring of compassion, the speech that he couldn’t finish, the extravagant love, the lavish party and the feast fit for a prince.
We talk about this homecoming when a person comes home to God for the first time, from running away deliberately or wandering aimlessly – when a person comes to realise the limitless love there already is for them, the boundless affection their Maker already has for them, the place prepared for them in the most beautiful plan.
But as the years tick on (yes, I can use phrases like that in my mid-twenties), I’m realising this isn’t a one-time thing. It’s not a once in a lifetime decision. It happens again and again because we wander off again and again. We forget, so quickly, the intimacy and tenderness on offer. We forget the adventure we’re caught up in, the adrenaline and the excitement it brings. We forget the endless compassion, and we search for it elsewhere. We believe there’s something better out there when we had it all along.
And eventually, time and again, we come to our senses.
This Christmas, I’m running home.