I've always loved the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases John 15:4, "Make your home in me just as I do in you." It's such a powerful thought! But one I overlook when I place my feet so squarely within the tangible walls of my earthly home and all it offers. Jen Pollock Michel pulls us closer to clarity in our struggle to discover "home."
Finding a Home that Lasts
By Jen Pollock Michel
I wake most nights to the sound of an alarm. It's not the beside clock, ringing in a new day, but my husband's glucose monitor, tolling its own kind of urgency. Two long beeps, and Ryan's blood sugar is high. Four quick beeps, and his blood sugar is going low. When the alarm sounds, I shake my husband from sound slumber.
Doctors tell my husband that he is an exemplary diabetic, and in truth, Ryan functions like any other healthy middle-aged man with or without the disease. But his has always been a singular case. At thirty, after months of losing weight, he was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic - a grown man with a disease which usually starts in childhood. Suddenly, insulin, for which I had never learned to be thankful, was now cause for concern, and in the wake of the diagnosis, I've sometimes wondered: how long will home last?
The book of Ruth opens as Naomi and Elimelech leave Bethlehem for Moab with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion (Ruth 1:1). The harvests had been meager in the "house of bread," and it may be that the family of four plans to return with the rains. But like many expatriate stories, the years quickly become ten. Mahlon and Chilion grow tall. They grow beards. They marry and expect that grandchildren will soon be on the way. Naomi plans on filling photo albums and hosting Sabbath dinners. She'll light candles for birthdays and grow gray in the company of her family.
Except that death comes for the men: first, Elimelech; then, Mahlon and Chilion. With narrative haste, the author of the book of Ruth suddenly plunges the story of three women into the worst kind of vulnerability for ancient women: widowhood and childlessness. Home hasn't lasted, and without husbands and sons, these women have no legal rights, no economic security, no house to call their own.
This is the peril of a world post-Genesis 3: no home is ever permanent.
I find it curious that when Ruth and Orpah, Naomi's two daughters-in-law, insist upon following her back to Bethlehem after the funerals, Naomi bids them to "return each of you to her mother's house. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband" (Ruth 1:9). Having lived the losing of home, Naomi ironically commends to her daughters-in-law what is often commended to women: hope in the form of marriage and children. But Naomi, most of all, should have known that there is no permanent rest to be found in the arms of husbands, not when this world is under the reign of diabetes and death.
Marriage and family, while very good gifts from God, are not God's permanent promise of home. There's a better home intended for each of us, whether we're married or single, childless or child-full. I think this is good news for us: good news if we've spent the last many years wondering if we'll get married, good news if our marriage has fallen apart, good news if we haven't borne the children we've wanted to, good news even for those who are happily married, happily settled with children.
The hope of the Bible does indeed end with home, but it's not at the end of the cul-de-sac with a minivan parked in the driveway. There is a greater rest than the temporary rest that we find in the arms of a husband or wife, a better home than the one Naomi spoke to Ruth of. It's pictured for us at the end of the book of Revelation when the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, and God declares, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. Death shall be no more." Diabetes, too.
Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Christianity Today's 2015 Book of the Year, Teach Us to Want. Her latest book is Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's popular Her.meneutics blog and Moody Bible Institute's Today in the Word. She blogs regularly on her website at jenpollockmichel.com. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in literature from Northwestern University. She belongs to Redbud Writers Guild and INK. A wife and mother of five, Jen lives in Toronto, Canada, and is an enthusiastic supporter of HOPE International and Safe Families.