Majoring in Life
Some practical tips on how to overcome homesickness and loneliness.
Scripture passages in this lesson are linked to this page for easy access.
Lesson 4: On Your Own—but Not Alone
(Antidotes to homesickness)
Text written and copyrighted © 2002 by Manfred Koehler. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
The mailroom door stood before me, beckoning eerily. It promised delight or disappointment but would not tell me which. I fought the temptation to hold my breath.
Inside the door stood an array of mailboxes, each with its own number and a small glass door. Mine was number 143. Someone had told me those three numbers meant "I love you." To me, they had come to spell "I hate you." My mailbox had been empty for six days running.
As I moved toward that box, my eyes wouldn't focus. Fear held me. One glance through that glass door could reward me with a world of hurt.
Number 143 waited, six inches from my nose. I closed my eyes.
With a homesick heart, it's tough to contemplate the possibility of a mailbox filled with air.
Other than a few weeks of church camp, I'd never left home before. Home was a great place to be. I missed my family and longed for the close comfort of youth group friends. Now I was 959 miles away from them all. Too poor to make a phone call, I would gladly have donated a gallon of blood for a letter from someone—anyone. Even a five-point demerit slip from my Bible college proctor would have brought relief.
With one deep breath, I forced my eyes open. Empty.
"I hate you" mocked me in cold silence.
Out of the Pits
I walked through the rest of that day in a numb fog, a zombie to the core. I didn't want to leave; I didn't want to quit. I just wanted to crawl under a rock.
I had a lot of growing up to do, I knew, but knowing didn't take the ache away. One scripture I'd memorized shone a tiny light through my fog: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). My homesickness was definitely an "anxiety". I should have done it far sooner, but that night I put that verse to the test.
The secluded country road was perfect for what I needed: a place to talk, cry, even yell out loud. I did all three. God needed some good reminding of my need for mail. In a dozen different ways, I told him what it was like to have a vacant mailbox. The tears streamed down my face.
Then a thought gently pierced my mind. Am I not enough?
I could see my Savior, face sad but smiling, arms open. Love Personified offered me what I needed most. Not a letter, not a phone call, not even a visit from my whole youth group. Jesus offered me more of himself.
I ran into those arms, and that's when the crying really started.
My tears to that point had been bitter, selfish things. They brought zero relief. Now the tears were sweet, cleansing my soul with every drop. I had cast my anxiety on him. In return he showed me his goodness, love, and very real presence. In other words, Jesus hugged my soul.
I gave up begging God for mail. Jesus was more than any letter could be. He filled my mailbox, my world, my very heart.
In reality, he'd always been right with me, ever since I trusted him at age seven. But I needed to grow in order to enjoy his palpable presence. It took the pain of an empty mailbox to begin learning my lesson.
The nearness of Jesus is one of those lifetime courses the Holy Spirit seeks to teach me. I still need to review that lesson each day. As a missionary in Mexico, I occasionally see homesickness raise its ugly head, but it doesn't scare me anymore. My beautiful Savior, Jesus, is right there, every time.
That's part of my story. Let's help you with yours.
Merriam Webster describes homesickness as the state of "longing for home and family while absent from them." Another writer calls it "a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong." Both are true but not very helpful. You don't want a description of how homesickness feels; you want to alleviate the pain.
It might be more helpful to think of homesickness as an invitation, a summons to step through a Door. It's not the sinister door I imagined the mailroom to have, but a bright one, glowing with the light of a warm fire, filled with promise. No disappointment in that Door, provided you walk through.
Wasn't it Jesus who said, "I am the door"? He went on to say, "If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (John 10:9, NASB). Most people limit the great promise of that verse, thinking it merely refers to heaven. True, if you're going to pass through the pearly gates, you'll have to go through Jesus. He's the only Way.
But Christ's salvation is so much more than a free key to glory. You don't have to wait until they build your coffin to enjoy much of what lies beyond that Door. Jesus' salvation is a package deal. It's a house full of presents, a valley of green pastures, a treasure chest of riches to enjoy. And many of those treasures are for here and now.
- Total acceptance in Jesus (Romans 15:7)
- Love unflinching and multidimensional (Ephesians 3:17-19)
- Perfect peace of soul (Philippians 4:7)
- Perfect peace with God (Romans 5:1)
- Full and ongoing forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14)
- Zero rejection from heaven (Romans 8:1)
- Protection from the evil one (John 17:15)
- And a cure for homesickness from Someone who cares most (1 Peter 5:7)
Feeling homesick? It's a reminder: The Door's open, the fire's lit. Jesus smiles, his arms wide. Walk on in.
Get Practical, Please
Call it homesickness, loneliness, the blues—whatever—it's all a spiritual malady, a heart problem that needs an internal remedy. You may bury your problem with external things like fun, food, or frenzy, but eventually it will crawl out of its hole, determined to make you sicker than ever.
Thankfully, Christ specializes in internal medicine. When it comes to getting a spiritual diagnosis and finding a cure, Jesus is the Physician to look for.
Following are a few practical suggestions on inviting him in for a house call.
Use Your Imagination
Imagine Jesus alongside as you get up in the morning. See him in the mirror as you brush your hair. Sense his satisfaction as you eat a bowl of cereal. Chat with him as you walk to your next lecture. Allow him to work with you while serving the next customer. Ask him for advice as you polish that term paper. Bid him good-night while you lie down to sleep. Your imagination may be faulty, but the truth stands strong:
"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).
Keep a Journal
Pour your heart out on its pages. Record the thoughts Jesus gives you as you beg him for answers.
Listen to the Loneliness Around You
A sense of utter isolation, even in the midst of a crowd, is a common experience (1 Corinthians 10:13). Make an effort to hear the hearts of others, remembering Jesus was a Master Listener. Ask penetrating questions about the things that haunt people. Realize you're not the only one homesick.
Stretch Your Soul and Reach Out
When you discover the hurts of others, do what you can to heal them. Serve in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Visit residents of a retirement center. As you and Jesus work together encouraging others, you'll be too busy to feel homesick.
Read the Psalms
Many psalms describe the experiences of desperately lonely characters, Jesus included. Consider David's prophetic cry in Psalm 22:6-7, words that describe Christ on the cross:
"But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads."
Loneliness? He's been there.
If all else fails, find a secluded country road, tilt your head toward heaven, and let the tears pour.
He'll be there. You won't be alone.