This is our 11th year in Niger, so it really shouldn’t catch me by surprise, yet it does.
Just before my September birthday, I find myself moody, easily angered, tearful, rapidly frustrated by the idiosyncrasies of living here, and continually questioning God. My husband remarks on my unusually temperamental nature, wondering if I’ve been getting enough sleep. My kids know that I’m going to fuss at them about the messy state of their room – and on particularly bad days, the state of the entire house. Others words that would normally roll right off like water on oil penetrate and hurt, whether intended that way or not. Oversensitive, glum, fatigued by everything about life in this land, I plug along for another month or so.
Then one day, usually sometime in early November, the sky changes from unrelenting sun and faded blue to bright but cool blue, a breeze blows and most days there is a morning haze of harmattan dust or fog over the river. I look for my single cozy sweater to wear while sitting on the terrace and drinking my morning tea. The children (and sometimes even their daddy) dig out socks to wear with their flip-flops. Orange squash are plentiful next to the bridge on the far side of the river. And yellow leaves begin to tumble from one particular type of tree.
And I remember.
I remember why I’ve felt so not me. I’m homesick. Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year, beginning from my birthday and lasting through Thanksgiving. The chill in the air, snuggly sweaters, hiking boots and hot chocolate… Hayrides and bonfires, roasting marshmallows, harvesting apples and fresh mulled apple cider… College football (any football, really) vivid and vibrant colors gracing the trees, piles of raked leaves and giggly children playing, and deer season… Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the delight of friends and family at Thanksgiving… Autumn arrives back home, leaving me here, melancholy and nostalgic, wistfully longing for favorite things I miss, and on those really hard days, evoking regret for this decision to live, work and minister in this place.
As one living in an adopted home that is far away and so different from what I’ve always considered home, bouts with homesickness are not surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is the strength of that longing for another place, my place– and the guiltiness that wells up within because in this moment, I’m not content where God has placed me doing what He has called me to do. I don’t doubt that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I simply don’t want to be here. If I let this continue, I’m stepping into sin.
At least once I remember, once I’ve recognized the problem, I know what to do. It really isn’t a 1-2-3 list of steps to follow to banish homesickness. I wish I could wave some sort of biblical wand, like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, to erase that longing for another place, but I find that for me, it is actually a process of confession, choosing contentment, thankfulness and praise.
I first recognize that, while that feeling homesick is not a sin, my resulting discontentment and ungracious attitude towards God and others is. I repent and confess, remembering that contentment is learned. It is also a choice I can make each time someone or something tempts me to let disgruntlement consume. After setting things right with the Lord, I also have to admit my sinful behavior and ask forgiveness from those who’ve been hurt or offended by my season of short temper, spiteful words and other “yuckiness” boiling over.
Then I begin to give thanks. Homesickness is living at least one thing the Savior knew quite well: a longing for another place that never quite goes away. In that opportunity to share in the earthly experience of the Lord, I can begin to give back to God a sacrifice of praise, a gift of gratitude and obedience. I think of words in Philippians 3 and Romans 8:17:
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
That longing I feel for another place? It brings to mind so many blessings that I could never begin to number them all. People, places, poignant memories, precious moments, perfect splendor as I regard God’s handiwork… all are priceless treasures. I do have a choice: I can mope and complain that I can’t live those moments every minute, that I can’t metaphorically grasp them all in my hand all at once… or I can be overwhelmed and overcome by infinite mercies and graces bestowed each day and then let my cup of praise and thankfulness run over.
I can also permit this yearning for home remind me of an ever growing longing for my forever home and the awesome presence of God – directing my thoughts upward, near to the heart of God, toward heaven and eternity.
The Lord, in His grace, allowed me to remember a bit sooner this year. Maybe that means I’m making progress!
How has homesickness appeared in your life? Would you have a moment to share a bit and encourage others with how God has led you personally through these tough seasons? Would anyone appreciate prayer as they walk through a time of homesickness? Let’s all be praying today for our sisters around the world who are facing this heartache right now.
(Post by: Richelle)