When I was thirteen, I started boarding at my school. My family moved across the country, a 6-hour flight and then a 5-hour drive away from me. Our school had day students and boarders, but they mostly socialised separately. The other boarders had all started together at the beginning of Year 7 and had bonded very closely by the time I turned up, mid-way though a term in Year 8. From the very first days I felt desperately homesick.
This was back in the days before the internet had taken off, before mobile phones, and when long- distance calls were prohibitively expensive. Our boarding house had 2 phones for 40 girls to share in a one-hour window each evening. You had to line up to take your turn and everyone waiting could hear your entire conversation. Each time I called home I would be in tears within seconds and could barely pull myself together to say anything before my time was up. I remember long, lonely weekend afternoons curled up on my bed sobbing, re-reading the letters my mum would faithfully send every single day. Mum would fly all the way back for one weekend each term and on one excruciating occasion I chased after her taxi up the road as she left, begging her not to leave. Being a parent now, I can’t begin to imagine how hard it was on her and Dad.
A Christian day girl friend asked me one day how I was finding the switch to boarding and I shared with her how homesick I felt. She shared something in reply that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “I’m homesick too you know, homesick for heaven”. I gradually got over my homesickness and came to love boarding and made some wonderful friends. But I’ve never forgotten the expression my friend used that day and how apt it is at describing the Christian life.
In the letter of 1 Peter the apostle instructs the Christians to whom he is writing to live out their lives as foreigners here (1 Pet 1:17, 2:11). They are to consider themselves exiles, aliens, sojourners, strangers, temporary residents. This earth is not their home; their inheritance is in heaven. In writing to the Philippians Paul likewise reminds us that we are not at home here and now, but our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). As Jesus reassured his disciples in those final hours in the upper room, he has a place prepared for us, and it’s a place he is yet to take us to (John 14:3).
Friends, we are not home yet, things are not as they ought to be; we are all boarders longing to be home with our families.
Despite being taught this repeatedly in God’s word I find I am often too quick to forget this truth. I expect to feel at home here. I feel shocked when life throws up hurdle after hurdle. I seem to have this ingrained sense that I will get to a point in this world where things will settle down and life will be easy. I often feel 1 Peter 4:12 is directed straight at me: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you”. This place we live now is fallen and passing away. When people act in terrible ways, when natural disasters strike, when sin mars my relationships and conflict marks my days I ought not to be surprised by it. Even when a global pandemic turns the whole world on its head and brings about widespread suffering on so many levels, this still fits within what I know to be true of this life. While it is right to pray for this suffering to end here and now, it is also right that these realities point me to an even greater reality. One day there will be no more sin and my relationships with God and with others will be perfect. The world will be made new and there will be no more natural disasters. Never again will a virus or any sickness or death touch God’s people.
Rather than just pray that these trials and sufferings end, I’m trying to also thank God for them because they remind me that I’m not home yet. They stop me from getting too comfortable here and fixing my eyes on earthly things rather than on Jesus. The words of my friend all those years ago have really helped me describe that heaviness I can feel that things are not yet set right. I’m feeling homesick again. Homesick for heaven. Whether it is the small annoyances and inconveniences of minor sicknesses, broken appliances and frustrated plans, or the enormous griefs of chronic illness, betrayal and death that leave us curled up and sobbing on our beds. We’re feeling homesick. We know things are not as they ought to be, but our great hope is that one day they will be. One day we will be home with the Lord and we will never feel homesick again.