by Jadan Anderson, Morse ’22
“Our love is really limited, isn’t it? I’m only capable of giving my love and energy and time to three people, my wife and two kids, and then some friends, some coworkers, some neighbors that I live by and then I’m maxed out… I just don’t have the capacity. Our love has limits.”
In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen suggests that our true Home “is the place within [us] where God has chosen to dwell.”
“Where is home for you?” was the most frequent question I was asked before leaving my first semester at Yale for winter break. Answering this question was supremely important to me, but was complicated. As a child of divorced military parents, I spent most of adolescence trying to designate a hometown– or at least a “homepeople”– for myself. Life was like an ever-incomplete draft: one out of two of my homes bounced from Washington to Alaska to Texas to Idaho to New Mexico at what seemed to be an increasing distance from my other home and the dotted locations of my homepeople. What’s more, a sweeping gaze over my dorm before I left for Christmas revealed a third home and new set of homepeople in the making. That’s too many! I always dreamed of a singular home, a singular collective of others.
When I was in middle school, I spent my eighth-grade Christmas with my Dad. I remember that Christmas, Grandma lined up all six of her grandchildren in front of the tree before opening presents. “Is Christmas about the presents?” she asked. Dutifully, we all shook our heads: no. “What is it about, then?” she pressed. We had the answer she was looking for: Jesus, of course– and family. Smiling warmly, she nodded in approval. “Yes, and God has blessed me. My family is home this Christmas.” I didn’t have the heart to correct her; I was actually in one of my two homes. And now, as a college student, one of three.
Those words from Nouwen were part of a gift God had ready for me this season. As I was trying to make sense of the latest revision in my home theory, those words helped bring me into peace, and close the book on my question of home. I found comfort in the singularity, mobility, closeness, and scope of Nouwen’s idea. I had one home that I could take anywhere. It is within me where God dwells and, because the Creator of all dwells there, so can His creation; for me, that meant all three homes and all my homepeople from every place in which I’d ever constructed relationships. Strangely, knowing my true Home allowed me to find a singular home in my multitude of “earthly” homes. They could all be fit into my true Home, under God. This Christmas, that burning, futile question of my childhood was laid to rest.
There was a second part to God’s gift: another question.
After twenty years of service, my mother retired from the United States Air Force in September. Her first move was to relocate her family back to Washington state. Ever fond of nostalgia, this is where she graduated high school and began her military career. It is also a fifteen-minute drive from my other childhood home, with my father.
I think to most, this was great. Finally, the distance between the two homes of my adolescence was practically nonexistent. I could agree with my grandmother and finally be at home– both of them– for Christmas.
But instead, this nearness has been a cause for anxiety.
When I realized that my true Home is the place in me where God dwells, I also realized with that comes a bit of power. Not “walk-on-water-and-turn-it-into-wine” power but the power of living in the spirit. I think that’s what Nouwen is describing when he writes “Having ‘received without charge,’ I can ‘give without charge.’” This is what it means to be Beloved. “As the Beloved, I can confront, console, admonish, and encourage without fear of rejection or need for affirmation.” Even more, we wield God’s power of love, He being both Love itself and the boundless source of love. Knowing and accepting the God dwelling within ourselves means accepting both the power that comes with it and the call to use those powers to love others.
“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:36-40)
The transcontinental plane ride from Connecticut to Washington was fraught with calculations as to how I should be dividing my time between the two sides of my family. Should I stay with my Mom who insisted that she should buy the ticket in late autumn? Is that fair to my Dad, whose work schedule is so hectic and stressful he’s hardly able to squeeze in a blink before December breaks? No, I’ll stay with my Mom: I have my own room there. But I’ve missed my family and am on break to spend time with them– a room shouldn’t matter so much. Mom goes back to work during the second half of break– I’ll stay with Dad then. But he’s working practically the whole break. I’d hate to visit him later in the day because I’ll be tired, but that may be my only option. I’ll just wing it, I guess.
In between the car rides from Mom’s to grandparents’, grandparents’ to Auntie and Uncle’s, Auntie and Uncle’s to Dad’s girlfriend’s, Dad’s girlfriend’s to Dad’s, and finally Dad’s to Mom’s again, I obsessed over each exchange. Did I spend enough time there? Was it enough to let them know that I love them no less than I love the other? Sometimes I thought I was successful; but, more often than not, I would hear “You have to go now? Stay a little longer!” Though I longed to explain my intent, I very well couldn’t reply “I don’t have to, but your time is up. I’m dividing my break evenly, you see? I’m leaving so everyone else knows, too, just how much I love them.”
Of course, most of the time– if not all of the time– my family understands. But sometimes their emotions betray their understanding. The “You have to go now?”, usually riddled with fondness and affection, becomes sad. When I saw those moments, my heart tore for them.. Am I doing this right? Is there even a correct way to do this?
I was reminded that the distance that once existed between the two homes of my adolescence served as an advantage– I could at least pretend I had a singular home. I was able to dedicate all my time and energy and love to one side of my family. The other side was too far, anyway. I would focus on them when I was with them.
Sometime during the back and forth car rides, “You have to go now? Stay a little longer!” went from sounding like loving gesture to sad request to demand. Sometime during the back and forth car rides, I grew bitter. Was this not my break? Why am I meeting them always, never vice versa? This was easier when I was far– why am I so close? Why is this so difficult to do? It would be far easier to be by myself.
Taking a note from Nouwen, that bitterness at my own family was indicative of my straying from my true Home. How soon after I found it that I left it! Why is it that I strayed when focusing all my strength to communicate love? God, who had made His home in me, loves all without abandon. Why, then, could I not do that same?
The answer was fairly clear when I asked myself that question. I was drawing from the well of my own power, not God’s. While God’s love is the model for what Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 13), human love in severely limited. It’s exhaustive, selective, capped. We max out and grow tired and weary and bitter. Without God, our love is not all that patient and only sometimes kind. It’s prone to jealousy and pride. It’s demanding of both the giver and the receiver. It is irritable and keeps tabs of injustices against it. It gives up and fizzles out. When people love each other– that’s a remarkable thing. It’s like feeling the sun’s gentle rays warm your skin in the early morning. It’s a glimpse of heaven. But it’s always temporary. Only in God do we have hope that, as He turned water into wine, He will make our flawed, temporary love perfect and eternal.
But is that even possible now? Perhaps that can only be true in the new creation? I’m not sure if an affirmative answer to that last question would relieve me of guilt and bitterness or plunge me into despair. What good is it if we only love those who love us? Remember, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”(Matthew 5:44) Judging by how hard it has been to love my own family, this is a clear call to draw from God’s eternal well. So, what’s stopping me?
Once more, Nouwen’s words as he battled the limitations of his own love helped me: “When would I be ready to accept that kind of love?”
My own pride keeps me from so much. It keeps me from trying new things. It keeps me from asking for help. No doubt, it keeps me from accepting God’s unconditional, unearned love. It would rather see me a servant, earning my blessings, rather than freely receiving them as a child of God. How, then, do I expect to give a love I will not accept for myself to my family. To love all my homes, I must remember my true Home. And so, as with all of creation, love begins and ends with God.
It is written:
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
What we see dimly but will see face to face, what we know in part but will know fully– it’s His perfect, eternal love.
This is a new point of faith for me. This is of supreme importance. Going into this new year, I will be praying in hope that God will help me remember Home, in hope that He will replace my pride with faith enough to accept the love he offers me. I will be praying in hope that as freely as it is given to me, I will soon be able to freely give.
“Imagine a universe where that limitation is removed. Imagine a universe where nobody feels unwelcome. Imagine a universe where every life is cherished, everybody knows that they belong and have a place, that they’re loved. And imagine if you were capable of giving that love to everybody. That sounds awesome.”