We moved into the house on Howard Street when I was six years old. I can still remember what the place looked like before we moved in: the big spruce tree next to the driveway, the empty attic at the top of the house, the deluxe blue shag carpeting in my new bedroom, and the huge world map that covered one whole wall of the dining room. The missionaries who used to own the house would have disapproved, I’m sure, but almost the first thing my mother did after closing was to tear that old map down. It all seems like only yesterday.
And now–more than thirty years later–my parents have sold the old family homestead and moved into a condominium closer to the edge of town. It was a sensible decision, made with a view to the future. My parents are thinking more about retirement these days, and they wanted a simpler place to live, with less maintenance and fewer stairs. It makes all the sense in the world, but it still means that when I go to Wheaton, Illinois this week I won’t exactly be going home.
I will miss that old house, even with all its limitations. For some strange reason, it was sideways on the lot, which meant that people always came in through the kitchen, and never through the front door. It had a long straight driveway, with a sharp turn at the end (which explains why I crushed the back door of our old Pontiac Catalina against the pillar of the carport when I was learning how to drive). Then there were all the little things that my mother never liked about the place, like the way the living room overlapped with the dining room, or the narrow stairs that led down to the family room.
But it was still our home, and after 32 years all the memories come crowding back. I remember the hot smell of the radiators on a cold winter night. I remember the cool water in the Dixie cups from the downstairs bathroom. I remember the family height chart written in pencil on the back of the kitchen door. And I remember sitting around the kitchen table with my sisters and having cinnamon toast and hot chocolate after evening church.
Then I think of all the important things that happened at 1118 North Howard Street. The two most important decisions I ever made in my life were made right there at that address–both of them on my knees. It was under the window in my old bedroom that I prayed to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, and it was in the family room downstairs that I asked Lisa Maxwell to be my wife (she said yes). There really is no place like home.
Now I know, deep down, that I can never go back. I can drive down Howard Street, of course, and see the old neighborhood. And maybe someday the new owners will be kind enough to let me look around the place. But it will never be the same. Never again will I lie in the corner bedroom and listen to the cicadas singing in the elm trees on a hot summer’s night. Never again will I hear my mother squeal her tires around the corner of the driveway. Never again will I play capture the flag with the kids down the street. Never again will we sit around and talk in that old kitchen, or have a fire in the living room, or turn the spotlight on the snow falling in the backyard.
And I am sad, not so much for the house itself, but for all the life that we lived there–the days that are gone and will never come again. But I am not without consolation, because I know that I will never really be at home until I go home to be with Jesus.
It is good to make ourselves at home wherever we happen to live. The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is praised because she makes her house a home for her family. Yet the Bible often reminds us not to make ourselves so at home in this world that we lose our longing for heaven. Thus there is always something provisional about our present lodgings. We will not be living here forever. Soon we will be leaving, and therefore we should never treat our homes as if they were our final destination.
This is one of the sad realities of living in a fallen world. We are always moving from one home to another, until finally we leave this world completely behind. What makes this so painful is that God has given our hearts a deep longing to be at home. Thus we go through life homesick for a place we’ve never been–the place where Jesus lives.
But God has also promised that by faith we will go there in the end, and never have to leave. One of the most precious promises in the gospels is the one that Jesus gave to his beloved disciples: “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
There is a name for the place where Jesus has promised to bring us. It is called home. No matter what other houses we have loved and lost, one day we will come to see that there is no home on earth like the home God has for us in heaven. And when we get there, we will say, “There’s no place like home!”
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org