There is a 737 in the office at Children’s Hunger Fund. No, not a forgotten toy of some staff member’s child. Not a photo. Not even a collector’s edition metal die cast plane. (I am utterly fascinated by these.) Its an actual, honest-to-goodness Boeing 737. At least part of it. 15 rows of the fuselage, anyway. The seats are from a 747, but that’s another story. And sometimes, when the guests have left for the day, and I’m a little homesick, I’ll grab my laptop and Southwest-Air-like, chose my seat, and get some work done.
“Homesick?” you ask. “But haven’t you lived in California for the last two decades?” Yes and yes. But I don’t feel like I’m home–It is a vague syndrome, springing from a recessive gene carried by Third Culture Kids and missionaries, the longing for something else.
That salad you would get at the cafe just inside Zion Gate or a soft-boiled egg with white pepper from Ya Kun in Singapore. Its missing the way people laugh, mouth covered modestly with hand in Seoul. The geckos that run the walls into the thatch roof. Its longing to take your shoes off at the door without having to explain. Its sitting for long dinners late at night, bathed in the sound of vigorous conversation. Seeing a different sky full of stars, smelling damp rock in the cool underground arcade.
Homesickness is all of that. . .and none of it, really. At its heart, homesickness is a longing for some other Place, and it is a souvenir of travel, a residual treasure that brings great joy in remembrance, pain in loss, and hope for the days to come.
On the one hand, the homesickness for another place is full of delightful remembrance: of food, places, smells, food, sounds, sunsets, sensations, food. But much of that joy flows from sweet friendships, forged in the adventure and confusion of a different culture and language. Its the friend who held your head out of the toilet when you got malaria in Papua New Guinea. Its your host in Poland who sat for for hours drawing pictures to tell stories of his life because you hardly speak any of the six languages he did. Its the busy antique dealer-house church pastor in China who asks you to pray that he would be faithful to Jesus–HE asks YOU! Its meeting people like Hebrews 11 talks about, “those of whom the world is not worthy.”
But that homesickness is also the pain of loss. Of making friends and having them leave you when their parents are transferred to a new station or a new mission. Its leaving behind your home where you hosted hundreds friends for church gatherings. Its the discomfort of having to wear heavy, scratchy clothes so that you don’t freeze in 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or bemoaning the blandness of beef when you miss a hearty moose burger. Its saying goodbye to the beloved dog who had loved you since your parents brought you home from the hospital. Its wondering if anyone around you will ever understand the ache that you feel when you hear the question, “Where are you from?”
Homesickness sanctified, at its core, is hopeful. It is longing for something better than what we have now, even recognizing that what we had then wasn’t and isn’t the final home we seek. There is truth to the proverb, “You can’t go home again.” I have tried. It’s never the same. Companions have moved away, houses are torn down, favorite restaurants close their doors. But we are shaped by those friends, hikes, memories just as we are shaped by the longing. The souvenir of homesickness points to the world beyond this world.
Unsanctified homesickness can become crippling, swiping the legs out from under you with steady blows of unbridled discontent. How do you give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God? How do we find gratefulness for homesickness? How do we harness it with gratitude and aim it toward a world that needs to know more than just quirks of culture? How do we do more than explore?
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal though us. We IMPLORE you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”2 Corinthians 5:20
We rejoice with full hearts and overflowing eyes in the gifts of travel given by the God who made the globe. And we continue to long with faith for the day when, like Abraham, we move from the tents currently staked in the land of promise to the Better City whose designer and builder is God. Then all sorrow and (home) sickness shall flee away. But for now. . .