Some words that we use are very expressive. One such word is ‘homesick’. No! It doesn’t mean that I’m sick of being at home; it means that I’m sick because of my intense longing for home.
Migrants typically experience homesickness. Some get over their homesickness very quickly; others struggle with it for a long time – even years. Some can’t get over their homesickness at all and decide to return to their former country. I have spoken to others who remained homesick for their old country all their lives but who nevertheless stuck it out and made the most of their new situation.
The word homesickness is expressive in that it really is a sickness. Those who suffer from it are usually depressed and find their ailment debilitating. It’s especially a sickness of the mind but it often has bodily consequences.
It’s also an expressive word in that the focus of the problem is “home”. But where is “home”? The new land is supposed to be home but it isn’t. Some have discovered that the old home isn’t home anymore either. I recall a migrant couple who spent some five years in Australia and finally their homesickness got the better of them. They returned to the country of their birth but found that in those five years family and friends had move on and things were no longer as they remembered it. Returning also reminded them of why they had left in the first place. The upshot was that they returned to Australia yet once again.
I thought of these things when I was listening last week to a recording of some German folk songs. I don’t know a great deal of German – just enough to be dangerous. One of the songs in that recording that I particularly enjoy is entitled ‘Sehnsucht nach der heimat’ – loosely translated as “longing for home” – you can find a video clip on YouTube.
One of the problems with expressive words is that sometimes they defy proper translation. Sehnsucht is one of those words in German. It means an intense yearning… so strong that it’s like an addiction. It’s a craving for something that one is intensely missing – usually a place that we vaguely know to be “home”. But the word means more than that. It has wrapped up in it the thought of the ideal that we yearn for – perhaps even with a sense of nostalgia, as if we have seen glimpses of it. We could imagine the homesick migrant who has become so obsessed with their past home that they have idealised it into a perfect world where all their hopes and dreams will be realised. That’s Sehnsucht. C.S. Lewis (of Narnia Chronicle fame) spoke of it as “the inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what”.
Well, I’m going to be so brave as to disagree with Lewis. We do know what it is that we are longing for. Or should I say, “We do know WHO we are longing for.”
Some weeks ago Pastor Andrew preached on Psalm 24. That Psalm portrays an intense and obsessive longing. “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”
I can imagine you arguing, “Longing for the company of another person is hardly home sickness.” Not so in this case. The book of Hebrews tells us about sehnsucht in chapter 11 – that famous chapter about faith. It tells us of the sehnsucht of people who didn’t get what was promised in this life but who yearned for a better country – a heavenly one. The reason why Christians are often homesick for that city that God has prepared for us is that the yearning of David in Psalm 42 will finally be satisfied when we are at home with Jesus.
So how’s it going with your sehnsucht?