We’ve all felt that bittersweet longing for familiar places and people. Our experience of homesickness increases with age. The more places you visit and come to love, the less “at home” you feel in any one place. And the more people you come to cherish, the more often you miss someone.
Perhaps those who can identify most with the term “homesickness” are those who have lost loved ones. It’s more than a simple miss; an undeniable void is created at the departure of a loved one. Your world—your home—is altered and you know with final certainty that it will never return to the way things were.
Parents experience a similar phenomenon. You love your infant child with an eager curiosity to see him grown, and you love your grown child while also mourning the loss of her infancy.
Natural beauty, too, stirs a feeling like homesickness in us. The painted tips of trees in fall give us such an intense desire to somehow soak it in, to enter in, to take it with us. But we can’t quite do it. Though we are filled with joy and wonder and gratitude at the present season, we don’t ever quite enjoy it enough. And soon the season changes again.
All of our senses contribute to the longing. We eat and are full before we have a chance to taste all the flavors, and hunger follows again. Even music is a delightful kind of taunting. In a letter to his friend, Sheldon Vanauken, C.S. Lewis wrote, “When do we hear a musical air? Until the last note is sounded it is incomplete; as soon as that sounds it’s already over.”
Homesickness, in this sense, is the longing for wholeness, which we feel so frequently and never quite satisfy in a lifetime.
Some of us respond to homesickness by becoming “homebodies.” We do not venture far because we decide the pain is too great. We cannot stand to let go of the things we are attached to. We despise change because we believe that if we hold on tight enough, we will avoid change and the pain of separation that comes with it.
On the other hand, some of us respond with wanderlust. We lust after the next adventure, the next relationship, the next great beauty, hoping that when we’ve done and seen enough, the sum of our experiences will leave us whole. Each of us has a tendency toward one response or the other, but neither produces the desired result. What are we to make of this homesickness?
The Hope: An Eternal Home
In one of his books, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
Lewis’ thinking most likely came from Hebrews 11, which describes the great heroes of faith. It says:
“They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
2 Corinthians 5:1-8 also describes the afterlife as the ultimate homecoming. The Message version reads, in part:
“We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced…and we’ll never have to relocate our 'tents' again….. The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
That’s why we live with such good cheer….Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming."
The moments where we feel most at home on Earth, the moments of beauty, peace, love and joy, often seem to exist outside of time. Those moments give us glimpses into God’s eternal character. But they are also fleeting moments, designed to leave us longing for more and more of Him.
So if we decide to let it, the homesickness we experience can drive us toward God. And when we place our hope in Him, we become free to enjoy life’s blessings without the need to find satisfaction through them, and our homesick longing transforms into confident expectation.