Every now and then I find that the gaps in my Spanish make it hard to explain something. I’m sure almost anyone who has found themselves in a foreign context for an extended period of time can attest to the challenges in cross-language and cross-cultural communication. A unique and at times equally frustrating and fantastic quirk of languages is that sometimes the word you are looking for doesn’t even exist in this other language you are trying to speak.
Recently, I was trying to explain to someone that I had been feeling homesick, but discovered that the closest word in Latin American Spanish, “nostalgia” (pronounced ‘no-stahl-heeya’), didn’t really have the sentiment for what I was trying to express. Homesick is too deep a word to be summed up as feeling nostalgic. So I had to describe it to her.
To be homesick is absolutely to be nostalgic. Yet at the same time, it is a deeper feeling that goes beyond just the emotion of nostalgia. It is an aching of the bones, a longing that goes into the depths of our being. It is a sickness of the heart, expressed in a kind of yearning for a known and beloved place, for the community where our roots are. It expresses itself not just in our hearts and minds but in the entirety of our being. It is the desire to belong.
This need for belonging is something that is in all of us. It is woven into our DNA, painted on our hearts and twisted around our bones as much as our muscles and tendons and veins. It is an eternal thing. In the deepness of our soul, we all desire to belong. That is why it is such a profound thing to know a place, and to call it home, and to put down roots. That is why it is so wonderful to have those we can call our family by blood, adoption, or otherwise. That is why there is such a richness to the Christian life we experience when we bear each other’s burdens, sharing in joys and sorrows and triumphs and defeats. To belong means to be a part of something greater than merely ourselves.
God created us with this yearning. But the longing I have for the blooming black locust trees, the distant whistle of trains passing through downtown, the crisp, still, morning air before the fog has lifted, the church that is constantly praying for me, the niece I have yet to meet - these are merely reflections of the deeper yearning that exists within me. The homesickness I feel, the desire to belong, can never truly be satisfied by temporal things, no matter how easy it may be to romanticize them. On this side of eternity, we will only ever get fleeting moments of this feeling of true belonging.
This homesickness, this heart-cry to belong, will never be satisfied by place, family, work, or anything else that roots us in this world. While these things are gifts from God that He designed into His good creation for us to enjoy, they are not what ultimately defines who we are and we can never belong to them they way we belong to God.
When I decided to follow Christ, I forfeited my citizenship to this world. I discarded the concepts of home and family in the earthly sense. My citizenship is in heaven, and I no more belong to this world than Christ did. Even in all this, my homesickness has not gone away. I am a stranger, passing through as a traveler on his way home. I groan inwardly for the redemption of my body and my full adoption to sonship, homesick for the place I’ve always belonged, never seen, and always hoped for - eternity with Christ.
“This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
*This blog post was written by Levi Bareither, our Advocacy and Development Coordinator