(Here you can find the first post in the Dear MK series, and here is the third. For a post for missionary parents, click here.)
The first “Dear MK…” post I wrote centered on the topic of identity. This post will focus on the idea of home and belonging, and then I’m planning a third post on the topic of family. All of them are intended for MK’s who have left their mission field for school, work, or life in their “passport country,” but they hit on broad topics that I pray will be helpful and encouraging to many people.
So, my MK friend, you’re in a strange new place with new customs, new routines, and new people. Even if you’re doing your best to serve the Lord right where you are, you probably still feel a sense of displacement, disconnectedness, or loneliness–and very likely, general homesickness. You may feel like crying when you read Proverbs 27:8: “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.” You are that bird whose nest is far away, and you fear you’ll never belong anywhere again.
And if you’re like me, this displaced, restless feeling persists even when you’ve learned the ropes and language and customs of you’re new home. Even though the awkwardness and newness has (mostly) worn off, even though you know the routine and can do what’s expected of you, even though you have fun moments and are learning and growing, there is still something that says, “I don’t belong here.”
You watch families after church drive away in their minivans to houses where they’ll have dinner together around a dining room table, and your heart aches. You see classmates who have known each other since kindergarten swap inside jokes and stories that you’ll never get, and a lump forms in your throat. A missionary visits your church and the first image of their presentation brings tears to your eyes. Your family, your friends, the life you knew are all far away, and it just hurts.
The pain is real, the pain is normal, and there’s not a quick fix to make everything all better. But there are some things that soothe the ache. I’d like to share three things that helped me through the pain of homesickness.
The first thing was the realization that Jesus did this first. He left His Father and His home to live for over 30 years in a limited body, in tiny towns in a tiny country on this tiny planet He created, with people who, whether they hated Him or loved Him, couldn’t fully understand Him. No wonder He stayed up late and got up early to pray! Sure, He was setting an example, but He also missed His Father! Occasionally some of the angels who had worshiped Him in heaven came to strengthen Him (Matthew 4:11, Luke 22:43), but at His most vulnerable hour, even His Father had to look away (Matthew 27:46). Jesus knows loneliness and homesickness, not just as an omniscient God, but as a Person. Hebrews 2:14-18 reminds that He took part in flesh and blood and “in all things” was “made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest.” Because He has faced the trials and temptations connected with homesickness, He can help us endure them, too.
So pour out your heart to Him (Psalm 62:8)! Trust that He understands (Hebrews 4:14-16). And when the nitty gritty of real life hits, remember how Jesus handled being away from home. He trusted and obeyed His Father; He knew that God had a larger plan than just those 33 years on earth. He completed the work God gave Him as He anticipated the coming joy (John 4:34, 17:4, Hebrews 12:1).
Which brings me to the next truth that encourages my soul in times of homesickness: we will never fully be at home in this world. At first glance, that may seem discouraging, but look at what Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16 says (I highly recommend the book of Hebrews for dealing with homesickness):
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God….
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
How is it a good thing to have no home here on earth? Because God has a much better home prepared for us! A place with everlasting foundations, built by God Himself, a whole city intended to be our home! (Read Revelation 21-22 for more details on our future forever home.)
And did you see what it says about those who set their minds on our eternal home instead of this world? “God is not ashamed to be called their God.” Christians in general will feel homesick for heaven, but as MK’s, we often have the opportunity to experience that earlier in life and to a deeper degree than others who have a comfortable earthly home. That doesn’t (I repeat, does NOT) mean that we are better or more spiritual, but it does mean that God can turn this struggle and difficulty into a beautiful thing if we’ll let Him.
And finally, I want to encourage you that this homesickness and displacedness won’t be like this forever. You will find your niche. As you take your pain to your loving Father, as you let your homesickness lead you to greater worship of Jesus Who endured homesickness for us, as you follow His example of trust and obedience, as you “set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth,” (Colossians 3:2) and live this life with our eternal home in view, you will find that things do settle in your heart, often when you least expect it. I don’t know what your experience has been or will be, but I know that God is wise, loving, and in control, and His plan for your life is good. Trust Him!
Lord, when the trials of life seem too great,
Dreams fade, and strength seems to die.
Hope turns to ashes, joy turns to dust,
Lifting my eyes to the sky.
Longing for home, longing for home,
Lord, every day finds me longing for home.
Life has been sweet as Your presence I’ve known,
Still every day finds me longing for home.
-Longing for Home, Ron Hamilton