During my time at the hospital this summer, I heard a lot about “home.” Patients and families talk about their homes, about missing their homes, about wanting to return there as soon as possible. This may seem obvious—you’d be hard-pressed to find a place that’s less home-like than a sterile, fluorescent-lit hospital room with nurses, doctors, nutritionists, social workers, chaplains, etc. barging in at all hours. Given the choice between this and my cramped, sometimes messy, needs-to-be-vacuumed fourth-floor walkup, well…I’d choose the latter any day.

Homesickness isn’t really about location, though. When we picture home, we may see our current living quarters or childhood dwelling, but these buildings are just physical manifestations of the memories and feelings that we are truly missing.

Homesickness is about loss.

I’ve never had an extended hospital stay (thank God), but I do know what homesickness feels like. My first real brush with it came when I began my freshman year at Calvin. I never anticipated homesickness—I’ve always been fairly independent, never had trouble with sleepovers or summer camp, and was going to college only 20 minutes away from my home.

I was excited about college, and at first everything went great—I got all my things moved in, met my totally awesome roommate, and rocked a brand new haircut. A few days into orientation, though, I found myself in tears in the middle of a cute little orientation-week sketch about homesickness (luckily the theatre was dark, so no one saw), and realized I was totally, powerfully homesick. I missed the bedroom that had been mine for seventeen years, missed my old routine of going to the school I knew with the friends I already had.

I liked college, but for weeks I would go as often as I could to my best friend’s dorm room and we would watch Gilmore Girls DVDs on her bunk until we dozed off.

Feelings of homesickness bubble up the most when there is a sudden change and when we are feeling lonely, afraid, or anxious, but they are feelings we carry within us always. In fact, I think these feelings come from the same deep-within place as our spiritual desires, our longing for something more. Augustine famously writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This spiritual restlessness, a familiar feeling to many, is at its core a longing for a home where one might find comfort and rest from wandering.

Both spiritually and physically, we long for a place of joy and wholeness; we long for familiarity. More often than not, though, homesickness is actually the companion of growth. The times when I have most felt this homesick longing, times when I made a big move or missed someone who meant a lot to me, were by and large times when I was growing and learning, being shaped by my experiences and shaping new concepts of home.

Ultimately, I don’t believe any human home can shake homesickness once and for all. No home is quite home enough—something is always just a little off, and feelings of homesickness will always cycle back from time to time. I think that is because our true home is with God, and we will never feel completely at home until we are with God. This is “heaven” to me—the ultimate homecoming. And while this is a future hope, I think there are also moments when heaven comes down to kiss earth—and those are the moments when we feel at home.

Jewel the Unicorn says it best when he enters the “New Narnia” in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle:

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”

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