The Big City, Hiraeth and Home


I’m sat typing this in a Starbucks cafe at London Paddington station.

It’s not like the Starbucks that I’m generally used to visiting. It has minimal floor space, very hard and narrow seats, tiny tables…and no public toilets! I guess they don’t expect you to stay here long and certainly everyone seems to be in a rush! But then, for this plucky little pastor from the Welsh valleys, that kind of sums up my whole experience of the big smoke.

I’ve been in London since yesterday and I can safely say – I don’t fit in here!

In fact, while I am a born and bred Brit, I’d even go so far to say that London is completely foreign to me. Now before you think I’m being racist here, let me explain what I’m on about.

My Starbucks experience is not the only thing that is alien to me. Here’s just a few things that make this place so foreign to me.

Size – The buildings are huge. The bridges are huge. The shops are huge. Everything is huge because the whole city is flippin’ huge, which probably explains why they need all that…

Transport – Oh my days! This city is non-stop! There must be more bus stops and train stations in this one city than in the whole of Wales! You straight up need a PHD to understand those crazy maps and navigate all the barriers and escalators, and there should be public health warnings about all the pushy guys and gals who HAVE to get on the train before you. Hey ho, I shouldn’t be surprised at such logistical madness in light of all the…

People – There’s people everywhere. People from every nation under the sun, speaking every language known to man. I sincerely love the ethnic diversity and experiencing the rich diversity of all the people God has created, but that still doesn’t excuse all the…

Ignorance – Sorry London, but many of you guys are actually quite rude! You don’t seem to want to connect with real people. You sit on trains with hundreds of other relational human beings all around you, yet prefer to connect with you smartphone with your headphones in. NO ONE TALKS TO EACH OTHER!! This is the most un-Welsh thing I’ve had to navigate in London. Everyone is head-down on their own little mission. I think I was the only one who thanked the bus driver (NB it is an arrestable offence to not thank the “Drive” in Wales!)

Anyway, here I am waiting for my train in Paddington and missing my family like crazy after a bonkers last 24 hours, and here’s what I’m thinking –

I don’t belong here.

And I want to go home!

The Welsh have a fantastic word for this emotion – hiraeth – a word with no English translation that refers to a deep, deep longing for the homeland! 

Right now I am longing for Wales, especially the Eastern Valley and perhaps more specifically, Trevethin, because that’s where my family, my home and my heart truly lie. That’s where life makes sense to me. That’s where I feel I belong.

However, my experience of London and this strong sense of hiraeth I currently feel has got me thinking about heaven.

Truth is, right now here in London I am a foreigner. Everything is alien to me and I am alien to it. Which reminds me of something that Peter wrote:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2 v 11 NIV)

As a Christian I am a foreigner, an exile in this world.

London is not my home, but neither is ANYWHERE on planet earth!

My citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3 v 20).

This sin-stained world, it’s systems, structures and insanity are alien to me. There are days when the madness, the sadness and the downright badness seems unbearable. Yes, there is beauty to be found, miraculous moments to be enjoyed and radiant grace does penetrate the dark clouds…but this is not home!

Home is with my Father.

With the family that His Son bled to redeem.

Where ultimately everything is going to make sense.

Heaven is my homeland and my heart aches for it!

However, I’m not there yet! I’m still waiting for my train to come. So what am I to do with this heavenly hiraeth? Sit on my backside, ranting, raging and despising the prevailing culture for being so hostile and foreign?

Nah, that’s just a waste a life and breath.

Hey, here’s a crazy idea – rather than resenting culture, I could engage it. I could believe that God hasn’t sent the train yet because there’s others He wants on board. Perhaps the gospel He has put in my hand is the ticket they need. Maybe His home is not full and He wants others to be part of His family too?

So come on Hankey, get off your backside and get busy! There is a mission-field all around you. There is a loving Father who still has rooms in His home for those who are currently alienated from Him by sin and enmity.

Don’t hide behind the hiraeth.

Rather, let it compel you to love, live and unleash the gospel.

The train’s coming soon, but it’s not here yet…

3 thoughts on “The Big City, Hiraeth and Home

  1. Glad there is something you inherited from your jeans. I coped with London when I had to go regularly by regarding it as a challenge. Get in and out asap.

    Picky point, but it’s an arrestable offence NOT to thank the bus driver back home. But tried doing that on a train? We even thank the bus driver on Greek islands ……….. so it may just be London! Tragedy is that 1 in 4 of Brits choose to live in London !!!!!!!!

    Question. If everything is so huge, why are the seats in St Arbucks so small?

  2. Fair comment bout the Welsh bus line dad. That was the point I was trying to make, but I made it clumsily so reworded it! I think they keep the Starbucks seats small to stop you wanting to stay too long!

  3. This made me chuckle! I’ve just moved back up north after spending 5 years in London, the latter two doing ministry, and I’ve been blown away by how much easier evangelism is up here as people are actually happy to stop and talk to you rather than suspiciously scowling or avoiding eye contact at all costs. It’s not as glamorous but there are many more gospel conversations to be had which is brilliant.
    Great to be reminded though that in all of that, we should never be so content here that we forget heaven 🙂 Thanks!

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