Before leaving for college, the one feeling I didn’t expect was homesickness. But as I sat alone in my single dorm room on my first night on campus listening to the noise of nocturnal college students, I longed for something familiar. I longed for my family to be within shouting distance, for my day to end with a verbal “good night,” for the comfort of knowing the floor plan of my house like the back of my hand. I longed for home.
In the days following, I began to process the heartache of leaving home behind. I had thought, presumptuously, that the tears evoked by last goodbyes constituted a one-and-done display of shock, a kind of quarter-life crisis that hit for a single moment and then faded into a muted, manageable memory. Not so for me. The pain of separation and loss lingered, smarting like a reopened wound whenever I was reminded of home. It was―and is―a grieving process.
Yet God has also been teaching me how his grace runs far deeper than my homesickness. In fact, his grace extends to me in and through my homesickness.
My knee-jerk reaction to missing home was to suppress my feelings. I believed in the false promise of stoicism: if I had enough faith, I wouldn’t feel the sting of loss. I missed people most of all―family, friends, my church community―and I thought these attachments would be easy to give up if I loved God enough.
But the Bible presents a different view of relationships that honors the deep community of the saints. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes of wanting to see them: “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). I found comfort in the truth that missing family and my home church doesn’t make me weak. Longing reflects the genuineness of the love between us. My relationship with God doesn’t strip away the significance of my relationships but rather strengthens and deepens the love I share with brothers and sisters in Christ.
My relationship with God doesn’t strip away the significance of my relationships but rather strengthens and deepens the love I share with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Moreover, Paul’s yearning to see the Philippians is rooted in delight. “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil. 1:3–4). Notice Paul’s response to missing those he loves: thankfulness.
We often don’t realize how gracious God has been to us until circumstances change. The very feeling of homesickness―no matter how painful―taught me to be thankful that I have a good home worth missing. This isn’t a default in life but a kind and gracious blessing from my generous Father. Instead of dwelling only on what I lacked, thanking God for his good gifts brought me joy and reoriented my heart to gaze on his faithfulness, attentive care, and goodness.
Sorrowful Yet Rejoicing
Gratitude doesn’t mean an end to all sadness, though. Reminders of home―video calls with family and photographs of friends―brought me to tears over and over in my first week away at college. But thanking God for his past grace and praying for those whom I love enabled me to praise him through my tears—“sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).
And in our sorrows, we can turn to God in lament―an expression of both honest distress and needy trust. I learned to situate my feelings in the psalmist’s question, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42:5). Praying Scripture reminded me continually that God, who breathed out these very words himself, knows my grief intimately. My sense of loss is not foreign to him.
The Bible doesn’t promise a quick fix to the difficulties of leaving home, but it promises something even better: God’s presence will always be with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. When we lose the familiar comforts of home and family, he draws us deeper into his promised nearness. God’s presence becomes sweeter and more precious. And as we bring to him our loneliness and longing, we become more dependent on our Father, more childlike, and more ready for our true home.
Our True Home
The redemptive narrative of the Bible points to our true home: everlasting life with God in his new creation. We wait patiently, but we haven’t arrived yet. We are still exiles, sojourners, and pilgrims in this world. As we long for Christ to return, perhaps a measure of homesickness is fitting.
As we long for Christ to return, perhaps a measure of homesickness is fitting.
Longing for home has prompted me to look past a seemingly hopeless alienation to fix my eyes on eternity, where there’ll be no more sadness, tears, or goodbyes. As much as I wished my childhood home could last forever, I’m headed somewhere far better in every way. I thank God that no earthly home in this life is enough to satisfy my need for true rest, security, and belonging―only being with Christ in eternity will do that.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is laden with a sense of homesickness. What else can compel two hobbits to save the world from a dreadful evil? From Rivendell to Mordor, Frodo and Sam long for the Shire, their home of green hills, cozy hobbit holes, and abiding peace. Yet what greets them upon returning is a Shire that has been subjugated, tainted by the evil they thought would never touch their home. In the end, Frodo departs for a distant land across the sea, where the darkness he fought finally comes to a complete end.
Likewise, home in this earthly life is marked by beauty as well as brevity. It’s imperfect. It cannot satisfy in the way we long for it to, but it directs our eyes upward as we wait eagerly for eternity.