Three weeks is a long trip, especially when you're in a different country--when people speak a different language and eat unfamiliar food, when the street signs don't make sense and the rules don't make sense and buying anything requires lots of maths.
At first it's exhilarating. All the differences sparkle like new toys. You eat ice cream every day like a local and look longingly at restaurant menus, sight-seeing brochures, souvenir shops and city maps--so much to see and do.
But then you see and do until your feet ache and your pants fit tight, and soon you're lying on a hotel bed watching The Fresh Prince of Bellair in french because it's (at least a little) familiar. This actually happened to Justin and I on an especially long European adventure.
Four days before the end of our recent trip to Croatia I found myself lying beside London on an unfamiliar bed listing people we missed. She was sad. Tired of meeting new people. Of driving from this city to that city, sleeping on cots and floors and in bedrooms that weren't her bedroom. She missed home. She missed it so much she couldn't stop crying. And so we named people we missed. And then food--beginning with tacos and refried beans and queso.
London loved Croatia. She loved the sea. She loved the mountains. She loved her new friends. But Croatia wasn't home.
It's good to feel homesick every now and again, to hold onto the longing, to embrace the ache. The pain, always there but now so close to the surface, reminds you of something deep-down true: No matter where you are, no matter how long you've been there, you're never really home.
God's people are wanderers. That's almost always been true...
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
a million souls fleeing Egypt,
a nation carried back and forth, across desserts, to and from captivity,
Jesus, a deliverer with no nest, no place to lay his head,
His words "Go into all the world,"
Apostles on foot and steed,
Paul the perennial traveler,
A persecuted disciples diaspora...
Staying still isn't a primary Christian virtue (but you could make a case for wandering).*
In Hebrews 11 we read about Abraham, "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God..."
We say, "But I'm not Abraham."
And we read, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own... they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one."
I am not Abraham, no, but I am a foreigner and stranger on earth. And when I remember that, when I live into my identity as pilgrim, refusing to call this place home, then...
"God is not ashamed to be called [my] God, for he has prepared a city for [me]."
Homesickness is wellness. When you feel it, feel it. Let it remind you. Let it reorient you. Let it move you to sing songs and tell stories of home.
And if you're not feeling it, if you've let your roots reach down into the soil of a place, if you've come to depend on the comforts of familiarity, if you feel entirely at home, then I'd suggest you get up and go.
I ran into a print on Etsy the other day. I was looking for something to hang in the house that said, "This is not our home." I didn't find that. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. What I did find were a thousand prints, signs, key chains, coffee mugs and decorative spoons emblazoned with these words:
"Home is wherever I'm with you."
In an age when young people often move thousands of miles away from the place they were raised, when no one stays put for long at all, we've had to redefine home. We redefined it because, even though we don't feel the need to stay in a single place, we still long for that feeling of belonging and security.
So we look at someone we love and say, "Home is you."
And then we have a fight with our spouse. He hurts you. She betrays you. Or our kids move away. Or someone dies. Or we find ourselves sitting in a full house, everything fine, but still...
And the longing swells. The ache spreads. Homesick...
People can't be our home. They are fickle and disappointing and small. They can't bear our expectations. They can't be our identity.
I actually like that saying--Home is wherever I'm with you-- quite a bit. Not as applied to my family but rather as applied to God.
Home is wherever I'm with God.
He is where I come from. He is where I'm going. He is the source of my identity. He's who I want people to say I look like. I want to speak His language.
And when I start feeling homesick, all I want is to sit at His feet and gaze upon His glory.
Home is not here, because home is where God is.
And because home is where God is, home is here, too.
The complicated part of our identity in Christ and our placement on this earth is that God is both here and not here. He dwells within us in a real and powerful way. He speaks and moves in His church and outside His church. We can see Him here if we look around. If you've read anything I've written, you know I believe that.
He's not fully here. He is not the prince of this world. He's not in every place or every heart. He's not the one who writes the scripts most people choose to live out. Even in me, a being ruled by the Spirit, I find evil creeping in and clouding my view.
Every day I will walk through a thick fog of godless darkness. But I will carry a candle as I go. I will sneak through dark alleyways only to open doors and enter rooms full of flickering wicks.
I found that in Croatia--the well-lit rooms and dark corridors. And I felt both homesick and at home.
On my last morning in Croatia my family worshiped with a church in Samabor, a beautiful medieval town with a castle up on the hill. We crammed into a room about the size of my living room and sang praise to God for an hour. It was beautiful and good--the kind of experience that leaves you feeling more alive. And totally at home.
Because I couldn't understand most of the lyrics we sang (everything was in Croatian), I opened my Bible to read the Psalms. I flipped to Psalm 84 and read this:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion...
When your heart is set on pilgrimage, when the only home you have is God, yes, you will be homesick. Your soul will yearn. Your heart will cry out.
AND You will go from strength to strength. The places you go that should be deserts will be transformed into oases.
I know this to be true. I've followed God to places I never thought I'd go, even places I expected to despise, places so different from the place I grew up. In every case, I found blessing and light, rain and strength.
You can find God wherever you are, and that means wherever you are can be a little bit home.
*Sometimes God calls people to stay still--to invest in a a church or needy community for a long time. I believe that. But I also believe too many Christians assume God wouldn't call them to leave "home" or "uproot my family." My personal experience and understanding of scripture suggest otherwise.