Recognizing Our Spiritual Homesickness
By David Desforge
There’s a subconscious reason why you sometimes feel inexplicably dissatisfied. It’s partly why you may also find yourself feeling like a total misfit or stranger even in very familiar places. Sometimes it manifests when things that once brought you joy suddenly feel foreign. You might sense it most intensely when death makes everything appear bizarrely unnatural.
As many great souls have pointed out, we don’t really belong here. We were made for and are heading toward our true home. In the meantime, we are incurably homesick.
I’ve come to see that any earthly homesickness I experience is actually an achy gift that can help me connect to this heavenly grief. Our horizontal homesickness is much easier to engage than the vertical. But missing our family, friends and roots is meant to remind us that we are also missing someone and something greater.
Horizontal or earthly homesickness is heart wrenching. I left New England decades ago but I still often feel like a foreigner anywhere else; with little clips of a Boston accent adding untimely confirmations. Right now I’m missing the connection that place once gave me with loved ones who have passed on. And it’s been two years since my last relocation, yet it’s like my heart is still tied there by a rubber band. I feel it pulling me back with longing and stretching my endurance. The tension is palpable sometimes as I pull back to embrace a new home.
But that’s nothing compared to my international friends. Just yesterday I watched a short film by a young, Iranian woman, Naghmeh Farzaneh. She used watercolors to share her sadness about people viewing her homeland negatively and mysteriously, and how even ordering fast food in English was a continually harrowing event. Through her art, she offered her heart: her grief and anger, as well as her resolve to belong and bloom.
My recent calling has been to build relationships with people like her from all over the globe. They enjoy much that is good about our country. But they are also incurably homesick: aliens, foreigners and sometimes exiles, far from everything that makes home really home.
Whether it has been our own experience or not, home is what we associate with a soothing voice, a favorite dish, inside jokes and an unlocked door. It is a welcoming smile, space where we belong and shared memories. Home means access and inclusion into private areas and conversations. Home means safety, protection, favor and care. Home is what we miss — whether we never had it or because we did. Home is what is supposed to be. And when it’s missing, we feel it acutely and try to compensate. We are driven to make home be wherever we are.
For my household, the holidays are approaching and we will reach out to foreigners. However, our youngest daughter and son-in-law will remain far overseas and our broader family is a long plane ride away. Yet, God’s compassionate care is being renewed in my soul. And his Spirit is teaching me to connect the homesickness I feel to that which I usually don’t.
The author of Hebrews understood. All the saints died by faith, he says. They trusted God’s promises even though they didn’t receive them all in this life. They shook hands with them from afar. And this was because they were “seeking a homeland” and a “better country”, a city prepared for them. (Heb. 11:13-16). Puritan scholar, John Brown, explains that the word translated as “country” is similar to the German word “fatherland”: the land father owns, where he lives and children have the right to dwell.
C. S. Lewis is often quoted on this subject: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” There is a reason why we will never find lasting fulfillment here and never quite fit comfortably. We were made for a Father and a land we miss, as subconscious as that may be. That’s why Peter calls Christians “strangers and exiles”.
What does all this mean for me? First, is that I want the earthly homesickness I naturally feel to remind me of the supernatural homesickness I need to feel more. I want my disappointed longings and continual alienations to help me miss God and seek him more intentionally. I also want to face more squarely that this world will never truly be home and to let go of my stubborn grip on it.
Secondly, I want my natural homesickness to make me as compassionate for others as my Father is. Deuteronomy tells us: “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (10:19). Leviticus adds that we must love aliens as we love ourselves (19:34). Jesus put it as loving our neighbor as ourselves (Lk. 10:27).
Naghmeh Farzaneh also spoke about being invited for Thanksgiving and how her friend’s dad bought her a box of baklava. Apparently it was the closest thing he could find to Iranian pastry in Florida. She was deeply moved by his attempt to give her a taste of home so she might feel more at home.
May we all be aware of the homesickness within us but also all around us. And enter both.
On a personal note, please pray for us as missionaries to international scholars. Pray that our team’s friendships and the healing of the Gospel would genuinely touch these amazing people. Pray for the connections they will make with our family and others over the holidays. Pray also for the Bible studies and events I lead each week. And if you would like to consider joining our encouraging support team, please contact me. It really is a meaningful way to be part of welcoming strangers.