Some of you may know that my Dad is a retired Baptist preacher back in England.  For the past six years or so, I’ve sent him occasional copies of sermons that I’ve prepared.  I always welcome his feedback.  Earlier this week, I sent him copies of two recent sermons, which are based on the upcoming two weeks of readings from Philippians.  For me, there’s so much joy in that letter of Paul’s, and I wondered and hoped that joy might have come across in what I’d written.  Instead, Dad replied with an unexpected comment: “Hi Ollie, these two sermons almost made me cry… they contain a lot of longing…” 

I’ve since been reflecting on that comment.  Am I longing for something?  And is there a longing close enough to the surface to be spotted by those who know me well?

In truth, I have been reflecting on the past lately.  Though not with wistfulness.  More out of wonder or disbelief – like climbing up a mountain and tracing the track you took to get to your current spot.  I’ve been reflecting on the journey that has brought me to this point in life and ministry.  And I’m also planning a trip home in January, have another birthday coming, and have recently marked another anniversary since ordination – and all these things invite reflection.  Even Facebook reminded me this week that it was the birthday of a very dear friend who died seven years ago, and that too has set my mind wandering to what might have been…

I’ve been doing a lot of hiking in my spare moments lately; it is peak native orchid flowering season after all.  On Monday the weather was perfect, so I trekked out into Cox Scrub.  There’s a high point on the way to the old quarry where you can see the landscape for miles, and the sea in the distance.  It’s a beautiful, if lonely, spot.  Last Monday though, there were more folks than usual around because of the public holiday.  As I wandered, I found myself remembering an annual event that takes place on the August bank holiday in Bourton-on-the-Water, a town I used to live near in England.  For many years, some friends and I would go there every year to admire the Cotswold charm, join in the duck races, and most importantly, watch the football match in the shallow river that runs through the town.  You see, every August bank holiday, local lads play football, raising funds for the community, and all the tourists crowd the banks of the river to watch – and to get drenched whenever the footballers come too close!  I hadn’t thought about that river football match for years, so it was strange that the memory should return so out of the blue like that.  So maybe Dad has picked up on something…

Certainly, life takes us to places we couldn’t have imagined.  Life is certain change – ups and downs, gains and losses, the good and the bad.  If peace and contentment were anchored in the circumstances of life, then I guess it would make sense in times of change or uncertainty to look back longingly to easier times.  But my peace and contentment are not anchored to the ups and downs of life.  I am not restless to revisit the past.  And if I’m longing for something, it’s not a longing that will be satisfied in the pages of old photo albums or daydreaming about past days in the English countryside.

St Augustine put it this way: “we are made for God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him.”  David said something equally poetic: “my soul thirsts for You, like a weary land.” (Ps 63:1).

If I have a longing, then it is to the God who made me that I must turn and return.  If I am feeling homesick, the greatest welcome home will be found deeper in God’s embrace.  That’s where I believe true peace of mind is found.  And so now, like the hymnwriter Robert Walmsley says, “home, weary wanderer, home.”