What does this image put you in mind of? If you have seen the old classic The Wizard of Oz, you know exactly what this picture means: Dorothy has returned home from her amazing, frightening, colourful, unintentional adventure. She’s gone and come back. She’s voyaged and returned. She’s been there and back again.
It’s a pretty classic storyline. Besides The Wizard of Oz, there’s Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Back to the Future, and many others.
It’s a satisfying storyline, in a sense. The main character goes to an unfamiliar place, meets new people, has challenges and adventures, maybe some tragedies, and in time learns enough “out there” to make their way back home… back to where they started from.
Satisfying in one sense. Frustrating in another.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Seriously, Dorothy?! You could’ve saved yourself all this trouble if you’d just seen all you had at home in the first place!” Often it is we, the viewers, who see the good of home that the main character misses for most of the story.
The characters go, they grow, they (usually) suffer, and then they come to their senses and return home.
Satisfying or infuriating?!
The story of the Prodigal Son from the New Testament is a pretty perfect example of the voyage and return. The son not only didn’t know what he had at home, he outrightly rejected his home and father. The son insists on receiving his inheritance and leaves to make his way in the world. But, it’s not long before the money and the good times are over, and heartache and destitution follow. He ends up getting a job feeding pigs (pretty abhorrent to a Jewish person) and is starving. It is in this moment that he remembers his father’s house. He goes home to repent and ask to work for his father. But (and this is my favourite part) before the father even knows why his son is coming home (he could be coming to ask for more money, as far as he knows!), he runs out and welcomes his son home. The son, astonishingly, returns home to rejoicing and celebration.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this parable, and then learned again.
But it is a wonderful example of voyage and return — of leaving home for something better and then realizing that the “better” you sought was back at home all along. There really is something beautiful and satisfying to such a story.
Exercise: Examine what is going on in your life these days. Are there things (people, situations, habits) that you are running from? What are the specific ways you are wandering away? Do you know what you’re looking for as you wander? Might the thing you are looking for “out there” already be where you are now?
I think it’s a valuable exercise. And we can all benefit from taking stock of what’s happening in our lives, right here, right now.
What happens if home isn’t a good place? What if it isn’t a place of love and care and security, like we so often find in the classic stories above?
Well, that takes me to an Old Testament example. The people of Israel (if you are not aware) do a lot of complaining to Moses as their leader. However, the other week I read these words in Numbers and they struck me: And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
That would be the people of Israel longing for their time as slaves in Egypt. They have seen countless miracles on their behalf by the hand of God, but they are still waiting for his promise of the promised land to be fulfilled. And, in this moment, they long for Egypt: at least they knew what to expect in Egypt. It might have been horrible, but at least it was stable, secure, and they had food.
Lest I become self-righteous when I read this passage, I have to remember that their desire to be back in Egypt says a lot about how scared they were in their present situation. It must’ve been pretty scary, even if that means they were forgetting or ignoring all that God was doing. (Even the mention of the manna shows that they are not seeing God’s continual provision in their waiting.)
But they are longing for Egypt here. It doesn’t make much sense. It doesn’t make much sense because we know how the story goes. Egypt was bad. The promised land is good — it’s just in sight!
But do we ever do that in our own stories? Do we ever long for the old things, the things that were hard and yucky, because today is so scary? “At least back then we knew what to expect!” Do we ever get into old unhealthy patterns because, bad as they were for us, there was security there?
Sometimes we long to go back to a home that is not a good home. It may not make sense to our friends or maybe even to us, but there is that pull. I think part of it is the pull for predictability and stability… and a strange form of security. It may not be the best response, but it is a very human response. And I imagine we can all relate to it to one degree or another.
Exercise: Are you relying on and returning to patterns, habits, or addictions that are harmful? Are you even just toying with them in your mind — thinking about the comfort they afforded, even if they brought many other negative consequences? Take some time to write down the things that you truly long for — your deepest desires for love, belonging, and security.
Are there two pictures of home being formed: the unhealthy home (easy to return to but harmful in the end) and the healthy home (takes determination to get to but is ultimately life-giving)? Describe the home and the path for you to each one. What is one thing you can do today to move towards that healthy home?
(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives As Stories series, go here.)