My family lived in the same house for my entire childhood. Until I left for college, the biggest move I'd ever made was from one bedroom to the other. Even off at college, there was something very comforting about knowing that I could go back home and everything would be like it was. A couple years after I graduated from college, when my brother and sister had also graduated and moved out of the house, my parents took a job in another state and they sold that house. I've been back a couple times since then just because I was curious. Peeking in the empty windows, you could see how someone knocked down a wall or how someone added a stone BBQ pit in the back-yard.
One time when I stopped by, the house had obviously been deserted and someone had left the front door unlocked. Cautiously, I opened the door and announced my presence. The house was completely empty. Not a stick of furniture remained. As I stood in the barren living room, the house felt so…foreign. My parents weren't there to greet me as I walked in. My brother and sister weren't there to harass or hug me. There were no smells of some new recipe my father had invented wafting from the kitchen. And it struck me. This place was not the home I knew. The home I knew was now scattered about and only recreated at those few times when the family gathered as a whole again.
I recently ran across a passage from Amos that reminded me of that experience. Amos 5:4-6 reads,
For the Lord says to the house of Israel:
"Seek Me and live!
Do not seek Bethel
Or go to Gilgal
Or journey to Beer-sheba,
For Gilgal will certainly go into exile
And Bethel will come to nothing.
Seek Yahweh and live…" (HCSB)
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beer-sheba were all places where people had met with God in the past and some people were making the mistake of seeking out the place rather than seeking out God himself. They believed that they could go back to where they had previously encountered God and things would go back to the way they were, that they could recreate their previous religious experiences. Instead, God warned them against confusing the place where they had encountered God with actually finding God.
Like those Israelites, there are times when we yearn for something we think we once had, for a time and place where we felt closer to God or experienced God's presence more powerfully. Whenever we feel that way, God says, "Don't seek the place or the experience. Seek Me." We can't recreate past experiences with God, we can only find God anew as we seek daily for Him.
As we continue forging our way through the year, let's cherish those memories of past experiences with God and family, but never confuse the places with the Person. God wants to do something new in our lives. Let's seek Him out.