I was only eight years old when I first experienced homesickness. After our Brownie troop set up our belongings in the primitive campground, located the outhouse (major grossness), and had our first meal, I felt an incredible heaviness descend on me. It was palpable. Throughout the week, tears flowed easily and often.
At that young age, I didn’t know there was such a thing as homesickness. The term was not in my vocabulary. My home life was stable. My parents marriage was intact. We had a large extended family and my sisters and I frequently spent hours with my many cousins. Our town was small enough to allow everyone to know everyone else’s business which, for all its down sides, did have benefits.
54 Church Street meant something more than the grey stucco house that my grandfather had built for his wife in the late 1800s. It meant more than a place for letters to arrive or a place for the evening dinner. It rooted me in time and space. It provided boundaries and a sense of safety.
I didn’t know this until I left but the house could not give me what I truly needed: a sense of self. An identity. Since I lacked internal scaffolding, I relied on the physical structure of our home to hold me up and hold me together. When I went off to camp without my family, it shook something loose. It pried the lid off my neediness, leaving me exposed and frightened. There were no books, no rituals, and no homemade bread to comfort me. Lying under the canvas tent in an open field with seven other girls and one grumpy counsellor, I experienced an unfamiliar emptiness. I needed something—though I could not articulate what.
When camp ended and I returned to 54 Church Street, homesickness came with me. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, there was no turning back.
Because my family was religious but not spiritual, I could not name what I needed. The only prayer I knew was, “Now I lay me down to sleep...” which is certainly not the most helpful bedtime incantation if you happen to be afraid of death. Yet in my own childish way, I was beginning to seek God. I often cried out to something/someone greater than me. In response, He wooed and comforted me through his creation. The wooded area behind our home, the small brook around the corner, even my cat all seemed to whisper, “Come further up and further in.”*
In the years that followed, though I did slowly move toward that still unnamed God, the gnawing need continued, perhaps even deepened because of the growing relational chaos in our home. My grandfather died and our extended family fractured. Nearly all the cousins, aunts, and uncles moved out of state. Left without employment or the siblings who had always been there, my father turned to liquid spirits to ease his ache. Their marriage slowly fractured into a thousand sharp shards that could never be glued back together.
As the walls of our home came crumbling down, the object of my need gradually came into focus. Jesus. It was Jesus. The more I learned of this man, the more I came to feel what Andrea Palapant Dilley beautifully describes in Faith and Other Flat Tires:
To me, longing for God was like hearing music from an open window on the street or seeing mountains off in the distance. The yearning felt almost like grief. A cry born into my heart before the human heart ever existed. A desire so deep and far back that it seemed almost prehistoric. I sensed the imago Dei, the image of God within me. . . . I was a homing bird traveling with my outspread wings, carried by an innate compass and crossing a thousand miles to get back to the place where I began.
I began with Him and now ache to return home to Him. It’s still a great distance off but my homesickness propels me ever forward.
*C. S. Lewis, From the The Last Battle
Dorothy Littell Greco writes about how life with Jesus changes everything. She lives outside Boston, MA, with her husband, one of her three sons, and her fluffy companion Leo. Her first book, Making Marriage Beautiful, will be released by David C Cook on January 1, 2017. She is a member of Redbud Writers Guild.