Home Is Where the Grace Is

grace

Photo Credit: Mitya Ku via Compfight cc

It’s a Saturday evening and my oldest son and I are working the dinner shift at a homeless shelter. We’re staffing the beverage table with friends, enjoying the challenge of keeping up with the demand for drinks, working hard, and laughing even harder. And then I see him.

Or, rather, I see the back of him.

I see the back of a young boy—about my son’s age—already walking away from the table. While we were trading jokes and jabs, he had quietly approached us, picked up a soda, and is now returning to his seat in the crowd. I watch him rejoin his family—two parents and two younger siblings. I’d been at the shelter for ninety minutes, and I hadn’t even noticed them. While serving them, I hadn’t seen them.

There’s more than one way to be homeless, isn’t there?

Being houseless is one thing; being unseen and lonely is another thing altogether.

Have You Ever Been Lonely?

Have you ever had something to say, something so close to your secret center your heart would burst if you didn’t share it? Have you ever wanted someone to listen? And has your hidden heart ever cracked when the ears that mattered most were too full of other noise to take in your treasure?

Have you ever wanted mom or dad to watch you? Have you ever toiled for hours over a Lego creation or spent days choreographing your dance routine? Have you ever revealed your creation to the only people who matter, and have they ever simply glanced and grunted? Have you ever simply died a little inside?

Have you ever stood on center stage with a hundred pairs of eyes looking at you and a hundred pairs of hands clapping for you and wondered how so many people could think they know you and not really know you at all?

Have you ever watched one, lone, radiant autumn leaf slowly twirl and spin its way to the cooling ground? Have you ever been that leaf? Have you ever felt like your whole life was twirling and spinning downward and you were falling alone? Have you ever watched a falling leaf and ached with the loneliness of it?

Have you ever wished someone would see you or welcome you or hold you or hug you or protect you or defend you or touch you or believe in you? This is being human. And the quiet quest to become unlonely is human, too. We have a word for the moment in which we are finally seen and unlonely finally happens.

The word is home.

A Little Less Homeless

On a Saturday night, I watch the young boy eat dinner with his family. His head is bowed and he eats quietly as his parents manage his younger siblings. I watch him, and he breaks my heart. Though, the truth is, he isn’t really breaking it—my heart is already fractured by my own loneliness. Like every human heart. The boy just makes my cracks ooze a little more. So, as my cracks ooze and the demand for drinks dwindles, my son and I grab a slice of cake, wade into the crowd, and sit down with the family to share dessert.

We break chocolate bread together.

We talk and our kids banter about the things kids banter about and they giggle and the laughter sounds like coming home. For a little while, at least one person feels a little less homeless, and that person is me.

When Home Happens

A house and a home are not the same thing. A house is four walls and a roof and a shower, a little bit of warmth on a cold night and a soft place to lay our weary heads. A house keeps the weather at bay. But home. Home keeps the loneliness at bay.

Home is not a building. Home is not the town on your birth certificate or the town on your driver’s license or the birthplace of your ancestors or the dwelling place of your living relatives. Indeed, home is not a place at all.

Home is an experience.

Home is a moment in which grace happens to us—a wrinkle in time in which we are really, truly seen and surprised by a flash boom of acceptance and belonging and connection. Home is the space within us and around us that expands when we are known deeply and embraced completely by grace.

In other words, home can happen anywhere.

Home happens when someone looks past our ugly and into our beautiful. Home happens when we make a disaster of things and no one flinches. Home happens when someone cares for us enough to make us feel rare instead of strange. Home happens when we can be inconvenient and still have a place to belong. Home happens when someone names the good things we are. Home happens in bedtime routines and family rituals, in the embrace of a friend or the arms of a lover, and when two strangers honor the humanity in each other. Home happens at the end, when our bodies are failing us but the love surrounding doesn’t.

Home can happen in a moment of silence.

Home can happen when the wind through the trees feels like a holy embrace.

Home can happen when we learn how to love who we are.

Home can happen anywhere, because grace can happen anywhere and the secret to home is as simple and as sublime as this: home is where the grace is. In the presence of grace, we can trust we aren’t a single leaf falling lonely; we are part of a great shower of autumn leaves torn loose by a mighty wind, and we are all falling together.

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Audio: Audio will be unavailable in April, while I’m finishing a book proposal.

Next Post: How to Let Go of Your Ego

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Suzi

    Wow – love it. Home is where the grace is. That is why church feels like coming home, because my church is filled with grace. Thank you for this post.

  • Patti Ann Ridgway

    Beautiful article Kelly. I am sharing this with Jean Manganaro, the founder of Fed With Faith because he and his organization truly create “homes” for the homeless.

  • MJCoats

    Truly inspired… thank you.

  • Natalie

    This made my heart ache. For the young parts of myself who never had a home as a child, who was that lone autumn leaf twirling and endlessly falling with nobody noticing or caring. To now have a home as an adult and offer it to my husband and child is a gift beyond words and a place I carry in a special place inside.

  • Vicky

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  • Loretta St. John

    Sigh. Beautiful writing and such encouraging thoughts. Thank you again, Dr. Kelly for being vulnerable enough to hear and express such heartfelt and uplifting words. I felt “home”, reading this. 🙂

  • Christina Haas

    As Dorothy learned at the end of the Wizard of Oz, “there’s no place like home”. The archetypal hero’s journey. Your take was poignant and beautiful. I have watched that solitary falling leaf before . . . Thank you for bringing it all full circle. <3

  • David K

    I’ll agree with the other “sighs” here. I “hear” a lot of that in here right now. Thank you, Kelly. Again. I’m trekking through that journey now across the most painful relationship I never could have imagined. It’s a new experience for me because I’ve been blessed with such beautiful people in my life and loves. In the words of David Byrne, “well…. How did I get here?” The answer is less important but I do know I just need find “home” again real soon.

  • JJCZ

    Absolutely Inspiring and completely true. Thank you.

  • katherine bean

    Your last 2 sentences really nail it. poetically and conceptually. we are just leaves in the wind, so temporary a time on this earth, and the quality of our connection to oursleves and to others is the only thing that makes it worthwhile.

  • Truly inspiring. It made my heart ache to remember so many of the same things that happened as I was growing up and I didn’t get seen either. It still happens so many times to so many of us. It also made me think of how that “grace” can be found when we come “home” to ourselves and learn to love and accept ourselves even when no one else does. I think sometimes we (I) need to do that before I can welcome home anyone else, especially if I feel I have been hurt by them before. I must come “home” to myself before I can welcome someone else. Thank you again for a wonderful post!!

  • Beverley Croft

    Dr. Kelly, Another great blog, great the way you came back full circle. I love the sentence you wrote – “Home can happen when we learn how to love who we are”. For me that says it all. When I connect to my own innermost, I come to feel such an amazing love that is already there, it is so amazingly non-judgmental, so confirming of who I am, that I no longer have the need for any recognition for anything that I may have done. I am already enough just as I am, wow!. I find when everything seems to be going wrong, no one is noticing me, no one recognises anything that I have done, the world seems to be against me, if I just remember to connect back to my real self, everything wrong seems to melt away, becomes unimportant. And the big thing is that so often, the more I endeavour to live from that experience, things just seem to fall into place to right what was wrong.

    From a time of being virtually friendless, by endeavouring to live this way, my life has been completely turned around, lots of friends, and so busy now, there is no time to be feeling sorry for myself.

    • Vicki Norman

      I really love your reply Beverley. Made me feel good 🙂

  • Barb

    Your words have taken my breath away. Your words speak from your heart to my heart. God bless

  • Patsy

    Thank you Dr. Flanagan, for this beautiful poignant written word that speaks to the human heart.

  • drkellyflanagan

    Thank you, everyone, for such an incredibly gracious response. This is one of those weeks where, unfortunately, I won’t have time to reply to each of you individually, as I’m packing for an early departure in the morning. Suffice it to say, I’m blessed by this community in which grace is not only discussed, but also demonstrated. You are very good people. Thanks again for being with me here at UnTangled.

  • Tiphaine

    Thank you for those words

  • Mike Gates

    Wow. This was really well done, both from a writing perspective and from a how-to-take-a-simple-action-and-make-the-world-better perpesctive

  • I cannot thank you enough for this post in the very moment that I most needed to read it. Your posts often hit me but this one resonated in a way that’s hard to express. Suffice to say that you eased my soul a little bit with these words and welled up the tears in my eye that are sometimes hard to find.

  • Val

    This was really important to me. I’ve had some feelings of friction with my in-laws over some political things, and this made me realize that no matter what has happened they are the best home I have, and I need to love and appreciate them with every breath. We can disagree all day long and still be kind and patient and gracious with one another. Thank you.

  • Vicki Norman

    Lovely post especially the implication that we can come home to ourselves. I think this world is so broken that it is hard for most of us to truly feel at home anywhere, or if we do it’s fleeting. Finding home within has never been more crucial for people than the times we live in now. For some of us who sadly cannot have children, a house rarely feels like home if you believe that having a family makes it so, and in a world that is increasingly fragmented and isolating, it can be difficult to make friendships that allow us to feel seen or heard. Most friendships feel shallow and unfulfilling much of the time because people are just too afraid of revealing themselves. I am learning that completeness is never found outside of myself, all the striving for family, a job with purpose, deep friendships, it all seems to just suggest that things aren’t good enough as they are. Too much focus on our deepest longings creates frustration and grief when we are unable to manifest them for myriad reasons (many of them ARE situational not motivational). Too much focus on “finding your purpose” and “doing what you love” creates dissatisfaction, disappointment and feelings of failure. Most people will never get to have jobs they love – it’s statistically impossible. We all walk around with a barely audible hum of dissatisfaction and anxiety from a mind that is constantly looking for what’s wrong or missing. I think the answer to this must always lie within.

  • Brett Carter

    Last night, my wife read this to me, and we both agreed that this says exactly what we needed to hear, and what we have been trying to live together. Thanks for your continued wisdom.