I wake up with a start. I have been dreaming again. In my dream, a big group of people from my home church were sitting in a circle, eating cinnamon rolls and talking. I shut my eyes again and try to swallow that sick feeling that is so familiar.
My mind resists, and brings up more scenes. My kids happily going to Sunday school, big classes of nice Mennonite kids and stellar teachers. Will teaching, as he so loves to do. I think of canning pears with another mother in church, and going to garage sales with my sister.
Sleep is gone now, so I get up. I get dressed, and wander out to the kitchen to make some breakfast for Will and me. We sit in the quiet glow of the dining room. My hand picks up my English muffin and quivers a little. Then the tears begin to fall.
I want to go back! I cry.
“Do you really want to go back?” Will asks kindly.
No, I don’t want to go back to some things. But I want to go back to my friends. People I have a history with. I want to go to a church that I’ve gone to for forever. I want to have ten ladies I can call anytime for babysitting.
We talk, and I find enough courage to clear the breakfast dishes as Will leaves for work. I think about the fact that every time we try too hard to fit in somewhere, it backfires. I also remember how I felt the last time we were at our home church–the temptation to return to the easy life.
Teach a Sunday school class full of wonderful Christian women? That would be so easy! Just easy-peasy! Sure, I’d do it, anytime!
What, our church is starting small groups?! That sounds like fun! So painless to associate with people I understand.
The other young couples are planning a campout! I want to go…it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to just relax.
But here I am, feeling like a stranger and sojourner on the earth.
Then I start thinking of people. Abraham, away from his family and friends, camped in a tent that didn’t look anything like the promised land. This is what Abraham said when trying to find a burial place for his wife Sarah:
I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you that I may bury my dead out of my sight.
(Genesis 23:4 NASB)
David, who spent a chunk of his life running from Saul and fighting battles, even felt alienated from God sometimes. He said while wrestling with God:
Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with You, A sojourner like all my fathers.
(Psalm 39:12 NASB)
And Jesus said,
“The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.
(Matthew 8:20 NASB)
Jesus wandered from place to place, teaching and healing and bringing the message of peace. He bucked the religious systems of his time. He associated with rough people that he didn’t have much of a history with, either.
Thinking about this doesn’t make me feel less lonely. And yet, I feel a bond with God’s people as I hear this strain of loneliness wail across thousands of years. Maybe this is how life is supposed to look. Maybe that nice, warm, comfortable feeling of belonging somewhere where you’ll never leave is an aberration of Christianity.
A quote from Michael O’Brien’s novel Strangers and Sojourners eloquently describes this tension:
“He was empty, and yet he was full. He was alone. Yes, he was alone among men. He was an alien, a stranger and sojourner like all his fathers before him. He knew now the anguish of exiles, the depth of their loneliness. And he saw that this was a gift, for it was the state of pilgrims journeying toward their own true home.”