He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Blessing of Spiritual Homelessness

If the proverb, "Home is where the heart is" is true not just for our emotional lives but also for our spiritual lives, then I am spiritually homeless.  My heart will not rest until it rests in the Lord, and so too my spirit.

For many of us in the post-industrial West, home is a place of comfort.  We can rest at home, taking our ease in relative safety.  Our hearts can be at peace in the comfort of our home. This peace born of comfort and ease is, however, a peace easily broken by discomfort and unease.

And life often upends our comfort and ease, thrusting us into uncomfortable situations.  Life tends toward more difficulty rather than less difficulty, leading us into ever more discomfort and unease as we grow and age and learn to cope with the discomfort of growing and aging.

If we allow this process to shape us for the better, then we will become less dependent on the comforts of this world, gradually shedding our attachments to its pleasures.  This allows us to build our lives anew on a firm foundation, the cornerstone who was rejected by the builders of His day.

In this way, our hearts are detached from the transient, unstable peace provided by worldly comforts so that we might be free to enter into the eternal peace which is given by the amazing grace of God.  The end of the comfort and ease of a home for the heart can be a new beginning for a lasting peace of the heart.

And so it goes for the spiritual life.  Though having a spiritual home is pleasant and comfortable, I know from experience that there is a serious spiritual danger which flows from it.  We can become too comfortable with the people who form the church community, the building in which we pray, the ministries in which we serve.

There is nothing wrong with (and much that's good about) a tight-knit church community, or a beautiful church building, or serving in many ministries.  Our attachments to these things is the problem, because they so easily take the place of our relationship with Christ.

Attending a church can become primarily about seeing our church family, or enjoying the artistic and architectural beauty of the building, or serving in a ministry.  While these are all good things, they ought to flow from a robust life of prayer and sacrifice of praise to Our Lord.

So how do we know when we have succumbed to this spiritual danger?  If a church which teaches all the same doctrines as the last one we attended isn't good enough to attend because it doesn't feel like the immediately welcoming church family we had before, that's a strong indicator of spiritual danger.

If we refuse to attend the church and seek another one because of the beauty of the building, that's another strong indicator.  If we shop around for a church in which we can participate in the ministry we enjoy participating in the most, that's yet another strong indicator of spiritual danger.

These are not spiritual dangers because the ministry is not good, or because beauty is unimportant, or because the sense of community isn't wonderful.  I am the last person to suggest that these things are unnecessary.  In fact, I believe them to be quite necessary to a flourishing church life.

The spiritual danger is at bottom the problem of selfishness.  When our choice of church to attend is a matter of the Truth that transcends our preferences and even cuts against our preferences, it is not selfish to choose it.

But when our choice of which church to attend is a matter of finding a comfortable-feeling church family, or finding the comfort of artistic beauty, or finding the comfort of ministry we enjoy, this is still selfish.  This sort of choosing is building our lives upon the sandy beach rather than on the firm foundation of Christ.

I recently left a church I had attended for more than 10 years.  I went to a church with a much less beautiful building that is badly in need of renovation, a small-town community that does not even come close to feeling like family in the same way, and I'm not participating in the ministries I was involved in previously.

That has all been very good for me.  Though it may seem like a disappointment, I have very much benefited from a chance to reform my life, to let God point me in the direction of new ministries, to help increase the beauty of a church in need of it, and to understand once again what it is like to be an outsider so that I can better understand those on the margins.

I am, as always, spiritually homeless.  I live not in a spiritual house, but under the bridges along the river of love.  And I am glad of it.  Though I once saw spiritual homelessness as a condition to be escaped from, or ameliorated, or merely endured, I now see it in a different, healthier light.

I now understand that to see that we are spiritually homeless is not to give in to hopeless resignation about the spiritual life, but rather a recognition of the truth of our situation in the created order: our spiritual home lies beyond this world.  We will not find true peace unless it is the peace we seek from the grace of God.

We will only find the lasting, eternal peace we long for in the eternal household of God the Father, when we are received in the heavenly household as adopted sons and daughters of God.  The peace of Christ is not the peace of worldly comforts, even comforts in very good things, but rather the peace of the full communion of love which is the communion of saints in Heaven.

Spiritual homelessness is part of the good life; it helps us to have compassion for those who do not have a home in which their hearts are at rest.  And spiritual homelessness helps us to separate ourselves from even those good things to which we are selfishly attached so that we can grow in the divine life of Love.

The life of spiritual homelessness is not a curse upon us by a malicious demiurge, but rather a blessing given to us by the God who is Love Himself.  May we live under the bridges upon the river of Love in this world until we find the source and summit of the divine life in the heavenly household, our true spiritual home.

Note:  This is a picture I took while wandering in a park.  I was not living under this bridge, though it is a very nice bridge indeed.


  1. Thanks for the reminder, Sam. Some of the most rewarding times in our lives happen when God strips from us so many of the things that give us comfort. In my life, I've found that He will sometimes even take away an opportunity for ministry--i.e. a kind of ministry I find rewarding, and replace it with one that I find less rewarding. In performing the latter, my obedience is tested, and if I am honest, I find that I fall short in service when it comes to forms of ministry that I enjoy less. I think part of our problem is that we have a skewed sense of love. We grow up so influenced by our society, and we think that love is synonymous with "fulfillment" or "happiness." Whereas love, true Christian love, only finds its full fruition in sacrifice. We might think that we love when we have pleasant feelings of affection, but we come to truly know that we love when we are able to make the hard sacrifice for our beloved.

    Finally, as someone who is still seeking the fullness of Christian truth, I can relate to spiritual homelessness in a special way. I want to test my own motives and make sure that, whatever move I make, it's not simply a move of desperation to get rid of the ambiguity that encumbers me, and to find a place of rest. Rather, wherever I go or end up, it should be to find a place where faith can work through love in my own soul.