A home is more than a house. Home has about it an aura of warmth and love. A house may be well built and furnished with appropriate décor and still feel cold and empty. What accounts for this difference?
Have we not been to houses where we were met with trays of food and drink and still felt ill at ease? What caused us to feel this way? Perhaps the hosts went through the motions of hospitality; they offered to take us and their other guests on a tour of their house, but by the time the party ended, we were happy to leave their residence and return home to ours.
A home is a welcome space for homemakers and guests, for family and friends. It exudes an atmosphere of ease and cordial concern. It is more than a space occupied by people; it is a place of grace that takes to heart the best interests of all who cross its threshold. Here the old saying applies: “Home is where the heart is.”
When we are at home with ourselves, we can more easily extend the same feeling to others. In such a family or community, life is congenial, compatible, and compassionate. This gentle affirmation lets those at home and the guests they welcome feel comfortable.
A show of cordiality has the opposite effect. One does everything right, but there is still something wrong. The house is perfect, the hostess worthy of a magazine cover, but still we do not feel at home.
Just as an unloved, insecure child may be fearful of strangers, so a tense adult, anxious to please everyone, may excel in shows of hospitality but come across as insecure.
There are two factors that account for our feeling at home: security and a sense of belonging. Home represents protection; it is a place where we can retreat from the trials and tribulations that are part of the workaday world.
Students tell us they feel at home in the modest quarters they occupy during their college years. Books, papers, computers, a stray coffee cup or two—all attest to the fact that this simple set of rooms is home to them.
This feeling of security accompanies them when they leave to follow their daily schedule, knowing that they have a home to which to return when the day is done. Attending classes, dining with friends, jostling with the crowd intent on being on time for class—none of these comings and goings rob them of their contented feeling of homecoming after hours of work and study.
While home gives them a sense of security, there is a deeper dynamic to consider beyond the physical setting in which they find themselves, namely, a sense of belonging.
One coed recalls being with her friends on a relaxing evening. The apartment was homey and alive with spirited conversation. She noticed in their give-and-take a lively blend of silence and speech, of listening and responding, of being present to her companions as they were present to her. “Being at home,” she thought, “is simply the feeling of belonging together.”
Belonging in this setting connotes the hum of friendly conversation, the smell of good cooking, the company of trustworthy friends. Here we taste the fullness of loving relationships that always gives way to a sense of harmony. Were we fortunate enough to grow up in a loving family home, we never forget the feelings of security and belonging bestowed upon us.
So essential was this original home that we often find ourselves yearning for it. Here we could relax. Here we felt refreshed and ready to return to what the wider world demanded of us.
That being said, we ought not to harbor the unrealistic hope of finding a duplicate somewhere. Neither ought we to feel so comfortable in such settings that we refuse to face life’s challenges.
Home is not a place in which to hide away from the world but a setting from which to go forth to meet the challenges Divine Providence places before us.
Were a fearful frame of mind to take precedence, we might equate home with a secure nook that frees us from the responsibility to meet the challenges set before us. A true home teaches us to let go of self-centered needs and to grow in new ways of giving and receiving love. We accept the challenge that dying to self often entails the risk of being misunderstood. We ourselves may not always be able to accept those who come our way, but we do try to treat them kindly.
A home is not a perfect dwelling featured in an architectural journal; it allows us to be human, which means to be imperfect and at times out of sorts. Yet despite this disharmony, we still feet at home.
There we learn to quiet our unrealistic expectations and accept the inevitable suffering that accompanies self-giving love. The danger arises that when our fondest expectations are not met, we may feel compelled to seek a place that purports to offer perfect togetherness, only to find that it exists nowhere.
Rejection and misunderstanding are part of the human condition, and no change of residence can alter this fact.
As Christians, we know that the feeling of being at home paradoxically reveals itself when we pass through the crucibles of alienation and non-acceptance. Despite the turmoil that surrounds us, in our heart, embraced by Jesus, we feel at home and at peace.
By contrast, if we do not feel as still and quiet as a weaned child on its mother’s lap (see Psalm 131), then no matter how badly we want to feel at home, we cannot shake our discomfort.
When we are at home with ourselves, others, and God, we are at rest. We find, with God’s help, the courage to accept who we truly are. Although certain aspects of our life may seem to be falling apart around us, we are at peace because the Son of God lives in us and allows us to be at home with him in daily life.
Jesus said that “” (Lk 9:58). This Scripture passage strikes a plaintive chord in us. Christ seems to declare that he has no earthly home despite the number of houses he must have visited. He often experienced rejection. He was even chased from the temple (see Matthew 4:5). In some way, the Lord was homeless. No wonder he wants to make his home in our heart.
Recall when he was with the disciples on the sea and a fierce storm arose. Jesus lay asleep in the boat, apparently as at home on the raging water as on the shore (see Matthew 4:35-41).
We also know that he spent time with his friends Martha and Mary at their home in Bethany, feeling totally at ease there (see Luke 10:38-42). In a sense he was at home everywhere and yet nowhere in particular. Will that be our lot as well?
To follow Jesus is to know that this life, however at home we might feel, is a portal to our heavenly home. The perfect sense of being at home here may elude us. Jesus suffered abandonment on more than one occasion, notably when he asked his apostles to stay awake with him to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:36).
Despite the fact that he had no place to lay his head, Jesus was at home with himself because of his union with the Father, whose will was his delight on earth as in heaven.
Jesus directs us to that joyous homecoming that lies beyond the present life. He invites us to let go of the illusion that we can find any lasting home in this life. The way of discipleship, the way of following in the footsteps of our Divine Master, is the only one that leads to the mansion prepared for us by the Father (see John 14:2). Only there do we find the true and lasting shelter we Christians ultimately seek.