It was the startling abruptness of the emotion that caught me off guard. The end of a busy day and an even busier week, I had just walked into my apartment and dropped my bag on the couch, mentally running down the list of possible activities for the evening, when from seemingly no where, a deep awareness of loneliness settled over me. I was aching for home. With profound clarity I realized that what I really wanted to do that night was walk out my door, stand among the rolling hills of Upstate New York, and put on my running shoes to go for a long run. I longed to sit on my parents front porch and drink in the wooded skyline as dusk creeps in washing everything in haunting grays and purples. I longed to drive to my favorite place for dinner and run into my friends along the way. I desperately longed to see the faces of my nieces and nephews, always bright with plans for adventures, and spend the evening roasting marsh-mellows around a bon-fire. My heart was yearning for the comfort of the familiar, it was yearning for home, but home is far away.
I know that this can be normal, this yearning for home. I am after all living in an area of the world where most of my days are filled with reminders of just how out of place I am. Although I have lived in the relatively small community of Egbe Nigeria for more than 18 months, most people who see me still do a double take and call out in surprised greeting, “iyebo!!” (white person). And the distinction of different is constantly reinforced as I am confronted with situations of all types reminding me, I am truly far from home. Most of the time the differences aren’t bad or wrong they are just — different. Different priorities. Different foods. Different music. Different ways of handling grief. Different medications to prescribe. Different formalities in a business meeting. Different socially accepted behaviors. Different expectations. The list of differences could go on for quite some time. And while there is truth in the saying that all humans are essentially the same in our basic needs, hopes and desires, certainly in the day to day realities of life there are many significant ways that we differ from one culture to another. On nights like tonight it’s the addition of all those differences that have left a big void in my heart. I’m yearning for home. I would give just about anything right now to not be different. To wake up and have a few days of the blessed comfort of being known and understood. Of being able to exist in relative anonymity, living each day in the simplicity of the familiar.
Not wanting to be alone in my loneliness, my mind wanders to others who have walked this path before me. My thoughts turn first to my sister who together with her husband and three children have lived and served for many years in a country very different from our own. I have witnessed her struggles and we have talked about some of the challenges that she has faced on her own journey, but now I wonder how many nights I never heard about. Nights like my own when the longing for home goes deep. Nights when all you want is to be somewhere that is simply out of reach, nights when home feels desperately far away. Mentally shifting, I turn my thoughts to the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are living in small makeshift tents; wanderers, survivors, people who have fled their homes, driven away by war, famine or persecution.
Soberly, I realize that not only must they struggle to overcome the longing for home, many must also wrestle with the grief of knowing that home is forever gone. That which they long for has been forcibly relegated to the place of memories. After a pause, I finally turn my thoughts to the man whose entire life from his birth to his death, at 33 years old, was lived in the unsettled reality of being away from the home he loved. He grew up surrounded by people who looked and sounded like him but in every essential way where vastly different. They should have understood, they should have accepted him, they should have created the security of home, but they were not able to. At their core they were just too different. Knowing and accepting this, he set his face like a flint to the task at hand, and gave himself completely to the life he had chosen to live knowing that each day that passed he was one day closer to going home. In fact, in his final days, Jesus, knew that he was soon to die and he wanted to comfort those he loved but who would be left behind. So summoning his own greatest comfort, he held it out to them with joy shining in his voice. He triumphantly told them not to grieve — he was going home! Knowing that his deep thirst was soon to be quenched, as he was reunited with his father in the glories of heaven, he held out to his followers the same blessed comfort — the comfort of knowing that one day, they would go home too. In telling them this, he gave them the hope which would become an anchor for their souls when the longing for home threatened to overwhelm. He planted in them a seed of truth that would grow up and blossom into the majestic flower of joy that would stand in stark contrast to the terrible persecution and hardship they would live under. By drawing their eyes upward, to the glorious home that awaited them, he gave them the security they needed to follow in his footsteps. The security to know that no matter how dark the nights would get, home was not so far away after all.