Sometimes it just hurts to be human. C.S. Lewis called it in the inconsolable secret, Dorothy Day called it the long loneliness. I call it homesickness.
“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each of one of you -…the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it.”
In the above quote from his essay The Weight of Glory, Lewis seeks to describe the indescribable, nagging longing for more that often haunts us humans. Usually it hides latent under busyness and/or numbness, but, often when we are least expecting it, the sneaky little desire wriggles its way out of hiding or suppression.
Last week, I wept. It wasn’t because I’d had a terrible day; in fact, it had been a fine day. The sun was shining, my son and I fed the ducks, we had a warm meal and even warmer conversation as a family. By normal standards, it had been an exemplary day. But as good as it was, it wasn’t enough. For whatever reason, the Lord saw fit to soften my heart by allowing me to accept the desire for more and grieve the distance between even the best on this earth and my deepest desires.
Our homesickness is often most acute when we or those we love are walking through deep valleys of darkness, depression or grief. However, as the Lord reminded me last week, even on the best days under the best circumstances with our best people, the homesickness burns a bit.
Typical responses to this long loneliness, this yearning for our deepest, truest, most lasting home are stuffing or sating. Sometimes we stuff the feeling deep in the catacombs of our hearts in an attempt to content ourselves with reality. Sometimes we attempt to stuff ourselves with food, drink, friendship or activity, anything to keep the longing quiet.
All our attempts mock us after time. After all, what we are longing for is not merely home or even heaven in the way that most of us think of heaven. What we long for is to be fully connected to Christ, to know Him even as we are fully known.
Homing pigeons have the uncanny ability to find their way home. According to Noah Strycker in The Thing with Feathers, in one experiment, a group of such pigeons were brought far from home, in sealed containers that tilted to vary their magnetic field, as they were exposed to bright lights and loud noises. Even despite all the attempts to interfere with whatever mechanism they use to find home, they made it back there. Scientists are baffled by this homing ability, as they continue to attempt to isolate what exactly enables this strange ability.
In much the same way, I believe that the inconsolable secret, the sense of homesickness we feel when we are truly honest, is humanity’s homing device. By fighting the twin desires to stuff or sate, we can allow these often unwanted waves of desire to lead us home.
Lewis claims that the answer to the inconsolable secret is found within the glory of God, accessible through Christ.
“The promise of glory..becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
How do we lean into our homesickness?
First, we give God time and spaces in our lives to remind us that we do, indeed, have this homing ability deep within us. It’s hard to think or long deeply when you are moving too fast to stop for a few hours. We turn off the radio or TV from time to time. We take regular Sabbaths to allow our desires some breathing room, some speaking space.
Next, we learn to sit in the uncomfortable places, to hold ourselves in feelings that are less-than-pleasurable in the moment. Rather than shoo them or shame them, we welcome them and ask them to lead us back home, back to the lap of Christ.
When we fail to do these things, and we will, we trust that, like the homing pigeons, all dizzy and blindfolded and exposed to bright lights and sounds, God will allow the deep homing device of longing to fight through all the distractions. We cling to the promise that our Father will continually re-awaken our desires, both in hardship or in prosperity, to get us all the way home.