The longing for home
Sara Lindenfelser is from the United States and has just spent a year as a Relay Worker in Sunderland. She’s written about her experiences of being away from home.
Since moving to the UK, I spend a lot my life waiting and riding on trains. Whereas before, I had never been on a train in the States, I’ve now come to spend a good deal of my life travelling on the rails. It was exciting to finally be able to read while travelling without threatening the lives of other people. It was one of those things that was completely foreign to me when I first arrived, but was one of new experiences that I learned to embrace. Moving to a new country always brings about a torrent of new experiences, routines, and challenges which for a while is easily embraced because it is exciting and novel. The differences you encounter are intriguing and at many times, confusing—but it doesn’t inhibit the enjoyment of being in a new place.
But eventually, it gets you. When you've moved abroad to an exciting place but then all of a sudden you go from happy to absolutely miserable and homesick. When those things that at one point exciting are suddenly really annoying or when external circumstances start to press on you and you just lose it because you're tired of trying to figure out how to deal with it. And even though you've been warned about the cycle of culture shock (you’re familiar with the U-shaped graph that is supposed to represent your life), you're just not prepared for that moment. We realize we are not at home, we don't feel like ourselves, and we can't cope with the demands of a new culture. Amidst the darkness of those moments, a longing for what we've lost becomes all the more real.
Sometimes you just miss being around people who understand your jokes or cultural references. But oftentimes, we simply miss home. Or rather, as I realized the more I continued to live abroad, we miss the home we thought we had. It is easy to glamourize or become overly-sentimental about our home and it suddenly becomes more exciting or interesting than we ever thought it was.
In so many of those moments, we are longing to be at a place where you know you belong. We long for a place that fits us and accepts us, but deep down there is a pain of knowing it isn’t achievable—of knowing that the place you’ve moved to will never completely be home and that the place we left will feel less like home from now on.
The longing to want to be at home is a sentiment that has run through the biblical narrative. Many of the characters in the Old Testament lived outside of that ideal place called home: Adam and Eve had to live outside of the Garden of Eden, Abraham was called away from the home he knew to go off into the unknown with God, the Israelites, when wandering through the desert to the promised land, were always looking back at the home that they knew—Egypt—but were also being led to the place promised them (which most of them didn’t get to), and later the Israelites lived as exiles in Babylon and Assyria—far from the Jerusalem that they desired. Hebrews 11 highlights the fact that although many of these people lived away from their home, they knew that God was promising them an enduring home.
“All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but the saw it from a distance and welcomed it. 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.” Heb. 11:13-16
Moving abroad makes us all the more aware of the fact that we are not at home on this earth. It causes us to identify with those in the past who knew that there is a better, heavenly homeland for which we were made and that right now we’re just on a journey to get there.
“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come." Heb. 13:14
To the one that wonders if they'll ever be home, God has prepared a city for them. To the one disillusioned by the home they have, the true home is yet to come. Scriptures provide us with hope that we can lean on, but the longing continues because we have not received it yet. Having a Saviour who gave up the comfort of home, and moved from place to place with nowhere to call home should remind us that we have one who can sympathize with our longings. What comfort it is to have one with us who knows our pain and has become our home. We’re not alone, but with one who longs with us and reminds us that God is faithful to his promises. For although now our hearts are still groaning with creation as we wait to arrive at our home, Jesus has given us the confidence that there is a place that will cause our hearts to finally be at peace.