This story of the prodigal sons can feel a bit tired and worn if you’ve been around church much. Yet we need to rehear it because the suburbs are full of younger brothers trying to clean up their act to be accepted—to work harder, be responsible, tone down impulse and pleasure to fit in to a buttoned-up world.
The suburbs are also full of elder brothers turning their nose up at the lavishness of grace, because, after all, the story goes, we’ve worked hard for what we’ve earned. Yet this is just one place in Scripture where God shows us who he is: a loving father and a gracious host.
This story shows us our deep hunger to belong, to find home, to root ourselves in place, and how, when we’re hungry, we fill ourselves up with other things that promise to sate our hungers instead of running home to our Father.
Our places are good gifts; home is how we begin to know who we are. Yet when we use the gifts of our places—when we use the suburbs—as “ultimate things,” like pastor Tim Keller is fond of saying, we worship them.
This book is a gentle call to all of us in the suburbs to come home, to find belonging not in what we buy or how we constantly center ourselves, but in loving God and our neighbor.
If God is our host who prepares a table for us, and the bread of life we feast on, then he is intimately concerned with our hungers. He’s concerned about meeting our physical and existential rumblings.
Suburbs reach after good hungers and offer us ways to fill up those hungers with the suburban gods of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety. When we glut ourselves on the food of the suburbs, we are left with aching bellies. But graciously, God always meets our hungers with himself. Being hungry in the suburbs is a sign to point us home. Healing begins at the place of hunger.
The thing about hungers is that they are all best met in God alone.
Breathe easy, the story of God’s kingdom is not about morality and upright living. It’s not about a bigger house, more resources (even to give away), security, safety, or the next promotion. No, the story of the Bible is that we have a Father God who meets us in our lostness, in whatever form that takes: lost in our gluttony and lust, or in our upright behavior.
The story of the Bible is that there is no place or people too small for God to come and get you. We choose to forfeit the wildness of belonging to God when we settle for creating our own way in the suburbs.
Our souls suffer in the suburbs when we have the financial means to always fill our needs, where we sleep on featherbeds and eat rich food. If famines and failure do not lead us to see our bloated but starving souls, then, as people on the Way, we must practice the discipline of being curious about our small hunger pains. This hurts. It brings us to our knees when we realize our hungers have been numbed.
But until we take away all the fast-food fixes we don’t realize our hunger is still there, and more than that, that there is a gift wrapped up in the unraveling. Not until we feel our hunger can we be propelled toward repentance, vulnerability, welcome, and belonging where we’re held securely in a grip that is not our own.
Feeling our hunger is the first step toward remembering who we are.
We need a story to find home in the suburbs. Indeed, as Albert Hsu writes in The Suburban Christian, “God needs suburban Christians who are willing to take a sharp look at their environment, recognize the challenges of the suburban setting, and then stay here to do something about it.” This book is that story.
The impulse for building the suburbs was to create an idyll: the best of the country with access to the city, the leisure of a country manor, a place of safety, and strong, thriving communities. These are good hungers: to enjoy, to rest, to work well, to keep your family safe, and to grow a cohesive community. But when these hungers are met simply through shiny suburban packages, they come out sideways as consumerism, individualism, busyness, and exclusion. There is a better way for the suburbs.
This book is about coming home, about finding ourselves in the story of God and rooting ourselves in our places. It’s a bold look at the culture of affluence as expressed in suburban life. My hope is that it challenges your idea of belonging and also shows you a more beautiful story to root yourself in. As individuals, families, and churches commit to love and sacrifice for our neighborhoods and subdivisions, we will find our place.
Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.
Cover photo by Tom Rumble.