One day in first grade my neighbor forgot to take me home from school.  After failing to reach my mom, the principal zipped up my pink coat and sent me out into the gray cold to walk home.  I made it as far as the park when I panicked.  I suddenly recognized everything and nothing simultaneously.  Turns out knowing your address doesn’t mean you know how to get home.  Luckily, TV prepared me for virtually any real life predicament in which I could possibly find myself.  And from this practical education I deduced that if you want to get some place and you can’t drive yourself, you’re supposed to stand on the road and stick out your thumb.  So I stood at the nearest intersection and assumed the hitch hiking position.   After some time a woman in a yellow bug pulled over. “Where are you going?!?” she asked, as if it were shocking to see a 6-year-old hitch hike.

“Home,” I sobbed.

I climbed over the crates of oranges in her back seat and gave her my address.  She could tell by my tears that this was no time for a lecture about getting rides from strangers.  And luckily, she didn’t take me to an abandoned warehouse and kill me.

When I got home, my mom lit up in horror.  She forced me to watch the Winnie the Pooh “Don’t talk to Strangers” video series for two weeks.

That cold, hitchhiking day brought me face to face with my deep longing for home.  I wanted its familiarity and warmth.  I wanted to be in the place where every one knew me and the place where pictures of me lined the walls to prove that I belonged.

Home is sacred because it speaks so deeply to our identity.  The entirety of our 18 or 19 or 20 years of life are displayed on countertops and refrigerators or packed away in attics or desk drawers.  Any search through the garage will produce sentimental waves of little league trophies and homemade mother’s day gifts.

No matter how old we get, we need home.

In Luke’s parable of the prodigal son, the younger son took his inheritance and left home with a fiery drive toward self-discovery and independence.  After a train wreck of bad decisions, he’s starved, emotionally bankrupt and realizes he was made to be home.

His father sees his son shamefully journeying toward him and he runs out to embrace his son and bring him home. And in the middle of the son’s repentance speech, his father reminds him that his place in the family hasn’t shifted.  If you get within ten yards of home, your identity calls you by your real name.  You are who you are—one who belongs, one who is welcome, one who is loved.

Home is the place where we remember who we are, where we are most ourselves, where we find life and the love we desperately need.  Home is the place where we are rebuilt, fought for, reminded of the Creator and the purpose for which we exist.  Home encourages us, literally gives us courage to be people made in the image of the Father.  It is the place out of which we are freed to love and freed to be loved.  It is the place where we are held in our brokenness and pain and the place where we are healed and strengthened.

And God is our home.  God is the place where we remember our name.  When we return to God we remember what we want to be when we grow up.  God is the place that cuts through nicknames and successes and failures to speak to us with familiarity and love.  God is the destination of the beloved—his heart is the place toward which we’re continually moving.

This is discipleship—moving toward home.  Moving toward the one who runs to us when we’ve run away.  Moving toward the one who puts the robe on our undeserving backs and the ring on our guilty hands.

It’s not enough to stand outside, like the older son.  We can only be home when we go inside, when we allow ourselves to be celebrated, when we embrace our identity as people who belong.  And no matter how long we’ve been gone, or even if we forget the way, God is always running out to bring us back.