One of the strange parts of growing up is learning things about yourself that are, in hindsight, painfully obvious. I recently learned that spending my whole life 15,000 kilometres from most of my family impacted me.
Long before I was born my parents left their home in the United States, made a long stop in England and settled in Sydney.
I first endured the 24-hour trip to the U.S. when I was a year old, although for that one my parents deserve all the credit.
We spent a month every few years frantically making up for missed family time as well as missed food and sports. We left with as much of America as we could stuff into suitcases: jerseys and hats, recipes and barbecue sauces, new family videos and old photo albums.
Holding onto the memories was bittersweet. Of course I wouldn’t trade them for anything. But over the years between visits they fade, especially when part of me wants them to. A scar is always better than a fresh wound.
In many ways, we were a little different growing up – the way we talked, the way we dressed, the way we obsessed over food and especially sport. By the age of 16 I was a veteran in soccer, futsal, baseball, volleyball, American football, basketball and track. I haven’t missed a Green Bay Packers game since primary school. When I forgot to set an alarm, I would wake up five minutes before the weekly game.
But over time, especially when I started working, got married and moved out, this faded too. You can’t pretend you’re somewhere far away when it’s painfully obvious that you’re not.
The same dynamic applies in the Christian life. It’s hard wanting to act like an American so far from America. It’s even harder wanting to act like a Christian so far from heaven.
Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t meant to come naturally. That’s why he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
How can we persevere in a hostile world, far from home? How can we ensure we don’t lose our distinctness the way I lost my American accent?
Part of persevering in a hostile world is connecting with the family of God.
My family and I recently made our first visit back to the United States in four years. Naturally, we spent every waking moment with family. We didn’t spend much time playing or watching sport, partly because the temperature was well below zero. But when we did, it was eye-opening.
I normally watch football games on my phone during my Monday work commute. Suddenly we were watching Sunday Night Football on Sunday night…with family…at the game. There’s nothing like joining a crowd of 80,000 to remind you why you love something.
Similarly, part of persevering in a hostile world, far from home, is connecting with the family of God. As we enjoy fellowship and worship together, we help one another refocus on what (who) is most important.
In one sense those who wait for the promises of God to be fulfilled are spiritual exiles, “foreigners and strangers on earth.” (Heb 11:13) In another sense we “are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph 2:19). We need not struggle through the Christian life alone.
And not only does God’s family walk alongside us. The Father himself is with us.
What Christians really long for, whether we always know it or not, is to be with God himself.
Living in Australia, it’s not just that I miss American stuff. I can watch as much football and eat as much Sweet Baby Ray’s as I want. The problem is that these remind me of the people I want to be with.
In the same way, what Christians really long for, whether we always know it or not, is to be with God himself. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
In the meantime let us not take for granted what we have. We have the Church, the body of Christ, to encourage us as we seek to live the Christian life. We have the Bible and prayer to live in communion with God. Finally, we have the Spirit of God, always present in us and sustaining us.
So as we navigate the Christian life in a hostile world, let us do so with the family of God, in the hope that he is with us and that one day we will spend eternity with him face to face.