You can’t go home again. Thomas Wolfe, one of the most treasured authors produced by this country, says it outright in the title of his classic novel: You can’t go home again. That statement always triggers for me the question – and for you, too, perhaps – why not? Why can’t we go home again?
Jesus knew it already, saying to the people of Nazareth, where he had grown up, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” Unlike Jesus, I didn’t know that we couldn’t go home again, and I’ve tried it more than once. Returning after 13 years to Alexandria, VA, where I had lived in the 1970s, I found that my friends were unable or unwilling to reconnect. And when I moved back to my home state of Georgia 10 years ago, I discovered that again the people with whom I had anticipated spending time were for the most part not available to resume our relationships in a meaningful way.
Why is this? Why is it so difficult – if not impossible – to go back to where we came from and pick right back up? As far as I can figure out, it has to do with change. Change in us, change in others, change in the environment.
Jesus was the same authoritative person as he was as a child, but he had grown into an adult and deeper into his realization of who he was and how to live out his ministry. And the Nazarenes had changed. They were different from when Jesus had been a boy growing up in their midst. Some were older, had gotten married, had children. They had known joys, sickness, hardship. Who knows how their lives had evolved since Jesus left?
I had lived in Alexandria as part of a married couple with no children. When I returned, I was divorced with two young sons. And now I realize that my friends, too, had undergone their own changes, most of which I know nothing about but can only imagine.
I left Georgia when I was 18 to go to college, returning for school breaks and work vacations. I came back in the midst of my career, and my sons were grown and living elsewhere. I had changed, my family and friends had changed, and metro Atlanta had changed.
But what about from the other perspective? Have we ever made it difficult or impossible for another to return home to us? Sadly, I can say yes to that question. Years ago at work, a staffer who had worked for us and left and returned, grew in his role so that a client asked him specifically to meet to discuss further work. With an unwelcome twinge of insecurity, I said that he had sought him out because he was a man. That’s why he asked for him and not for me.
That’s the bad news, that I would feel threatened and in that moment try to take away from the staff member his achievement of having a client reach out particularly for him. The good news is that shame and guilt washed through me, and God helped me to understand what I had done and why and to ask – and receive — forgiveness for it.
God helped our little staff go from a place where another would be unfairly challenged, accomplishments belittled, to a safe place, to a place of nurturing, encouragement and support. A place confidently and surely to be called home. Home in its best sense.
In 1970s Alexandria, we went to a dry cleaner named Presto Valet. Whenever we came through the door, the proprietor would welcome us by name. When we moved back, Presto Valet was still there, still greeting us with kindness when we left clothes to be cleaned or when we came to pick them up. They still knew us and were happy to see us again.
I had changed, was back in school raising two boys. Presto Valet had changed, they had incorporated a green approach into their dry cleaning process. But they were still there. With them, it was still home. And with God’s help, that’s how it can be for all of us. When another returns home to us, we can remember the people at Presto Valet and confidently, surely, open the door, reach out to the one we haven’t seen in a long time and say to her or to him: Welcome home. You’ve changed, we’ve changed. But it doesn’t matter. Welcome back. We’re glad you’re home.