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How many times have you moved? I have a friend who has clocked thirty relocations over her life, many of them long distance. Though this count may be unusually high, we do live in an age when moving is much more common than it has ever been. For most of history, people were born, lived, and died within fairly limited boundaries. Travel was expensive, difficult, and very uncomfortable. Community was a constant. Today, globalization, economic opportunities, and transportation technologies have all contributed to the increase in our individualistic mobility. And because uprooting is so common, so is homesickness.

College is where many of us first encounter homesickness. Missing home and family is added to the stress of term papers, exams, and doing our own laundry. After graduation, people are often willing to move cross-country for a good job, trading the familiar for opportunity. The military has always moved its people around, but today’s comparatively shorter deployments and international assignments often mean more frequent, long-distance moves and accompanying homesickness, especially for military spouses and children. The mission field has its own variety of homesickness, as inconvenience, isolation, heightened spiritual warfare, and difficulty fitting in when “home” add to the emotional complexity.

Thankfully, there is a general recognition that homesickness is both real and hard. Colleges have counselors and comfort food on hand; employers financially compensate for relocations; churches and missions organizations work to maintain communication and ensure happy furloughs. It is never enough to mitigate missing the place that feels like home, though. Nothing fully anesthetizes real longing.

Homesickness may look like crying during the holidays, frustration with current circumstances, clinical depression, or many other expressions. New languages, climates, foods, living conditions, cultures, and subcultures can be like sand in our gears, slowing us down and making normal functioning difficult or even impossible. While today’s travel makes visits home faster than ever, work schedules and finances mean that it is not always possible. And while social media does allow us to stay in close communication with loved ones, it also highlights every little thing that we are missing back home.

Missing home is not a bad thing in itself. It usually means that where we came from was a happy place—one that was a blessing and support to us. Home also means knowing and being known, a wonderful side effect of a trusting fellowship. This knowledge takes time, patience, and vulnerability, which is why it is valuable as well as difficult and slow to build up in a new place. Missing home also means that things were pleasantly familiar: roads, shops, weather, and accents all made us comfortable simply because navigating them was intuitively simple. Moving takes that away and is also a significant source of homesickness. And so we grieve the loss of these things, perhaps appreciating them for the first time when we no longer have them.

Missing home is not a bad thing in itself. It usually means that where we came from was a happy place—one that was a blessing and support to us.

It is easy, in a strange new place, to idealize “home.” Distance minimizes the negatives and magnifies the positives of a place that we love. We can nurse a nostalgia—accurate or otherwise—for where we are from. Idealizing home can make the current situation even less happy. The strange thing is that we can have this with multiple places after multiple moves. Places that felt strange and even unsafe when we first landed can look comforting as we navigate newer places later on. One small town where my family lived seemed scary initially, with hundreds of outstanding arrest warrants, abandoned homes, and a cage fighter across the table at our first church potluck. As we continued moving, we looked back on that time and place with fondness because we had grown used to the town and felt blessed in the church, but were navigating newness all over again in another place.

Although homesickness may be more rampant in our time, it is something that humans have always struggled with. The strongest Christians have battled its effects: Susannah Spurgeon, moving across town to a bigger house; George Leslie MacKay, moving from Canada to minister in a predeveloped Taiwan; Martin Bucer, fleeing persecution on the Continent to a safe but cold, rainy England. All missed familiar surroundings, familiar ways of doing things, and familiar loved ones. Amy Carmichael, writing home from the south of India, had a shorthand for homesickness: “H.S.” It was like a monster that attacked her at unpredictable times. Each of these people felt the cost of the relocation. Some were homesick till they died.

But while homesickness can be an enemy that we need to fight to be faithful, it is more than that. For the believer, homesickness can be a friend—it is a clear reminder that this world is not all there is. When things are going well and we are enjoying life, this earth and the good things in it can feel like enough. When God takes them away in a move, He is reminding us that nothing in this world is enough. He reminds us of our smallness, neediness, and dependence. We feel our finitude and need to lean on Him, perhaps in ways that we never have before.

Homesickness shakes us loose from this world. When you move, you have to let go of things, physical and otherwise. Some relationships will dwindle. There is probably a pile of things that you do not even want to pack and plan to donate. Very likely, there are things that you really want to hold on to but are simply not able to. That might be because of downsizing, because of distance, or because you just cannot wrap up things like the local botanical gardens and tuck them in a cardboard box. When a move forces us to let go of things, even good and beautiful things, we can reevaluate and reorient ourselves to eternal things. Moving strips us of much, giving us an opportunity to take stock of what really matters. Perhaps we can think of it as a beginning help to our integration with eternity.

Homesickness is a reminder within us that the things we see around us are transient, a constant testimony of our need of looking to the unseen and eternal.

Of all people, believers should be most at home with homesickness. Even if you live in one house your entire life, as a Christian you are a stranger in this world. We lost our original home in the fall and have been exiles ever since, with the alienation of a fallen world filled with fallen people. Sojourns in Canaan, Egypt, and Babylon were part of being God’s people for Old Testament believers. Christ entered the world through a family that was away from home because of a census and would soon flee to another country because of violence. The early church experienced diaspora because of persecution. Peter called the believers who had fled oppression “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), echoing the picture that all Scripture gives us of Christians as pilgrims. This is one reason that the Lord identifies himself as the God who “watches over the sojourners” (Ps. 146:9). Even in safe and comfortable times, this world is not our home. The Christian life is a picture of exile, and homesickness can be a reminder of this reality as we “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16).

Therefore, the writer to the Hebrews explains, God is not ashamed to be called God by such people. And He is a covenant God with a covenant people: we are not meant to walk through this pilgrimage alone, or even as a nuclear family. God gave us the church partly to help us when we are homesick. If we are in Christ, then we are also in His time-spanning, globe-encircling family that is all headed for the same home. Unless you are in an unusual situation or missions context, there should be some sort of Bible-believing church where you can find community, truth, support, and friendship. You can experience the bride of Christ in a new place and new expression, tasting the time when people from every tribe and tongue will surround the throne together.

All this means that if you are in Christ, homesickness is happening for you, not to you. The Lord allows sadness, grief, and “light momentary affliction” only as necessary to aid the daily renewal of our inward selves. For believers, homesickness is a reminder within us that the things we see around us are transient, a constant testimony of our need of looking to the unseen and eternal (2 Cor. 4).

If you are homesick for where you used to live, I cannot promise that it will ever go away. Like most griefs, it probably won’t get better: we must get better at it. And the best way to get better at it is not to minimize what we feel but to have it overwhelmed with something bigger: where we are going is so much greater than anywhere we have come from. If our greatest longing is for heaven so that we can be with Jesus, that longing has no need to be diminished: it only needs time before fulfillment. That home will be the truly perfect one, the one designed to house us specifically, along with all the rest of God’s people (John 14:3). It is also the only home that we will never need to leave. That is something worth longing for.

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