“Fernweh” and “Heimweh” — words for the one who’s far from home

by Elizabeth Trotter on January 20, 2017

I found a new word on the Facebook profile of a missionary writer, and it’s the best new word I’ve heard in a long time. It’s called fernweh, and it’s a German word that means “a longing for faraway places.”

The feeler of fernweh carries a desire — whether met or unmet — to travel to distant countries, to visit new places, and to have new experiences. Its nearest English equivalent might be the idea of “wanderlust.” When transliterated, fernweh means “farsickness,” in much the same way that heimweh means “homesickness.”

Fernweh and heimweh: these sister words draw me in. Ever since I found them, I cannot get them out of my head, for I live in a faraway place.

At least, it’s far away from the Europe and North America in which I grew up. It was far away, but now it’s near. I find now that the faraway place has become home, and home has become the faraway place.

The sense of home I get when I see a palm tree is so deep that I think the Maker must have inscribed it on my heart when He made me. For me there is both longing and fulfillment in a palm tree.

I travel through the city in a tuk tuk (open carriage), and I pass by a wat (temple). This Asian architecture seems so familiar now and not far away at all. I crave these sights. I want to see them my whole life.

The place I live is both far and near, and somehow I have fernweh and heimweh all at once.

But how can something be both foreign and familiar at the same time?

It is this way for all of us global nomads, I suppose.

And perhaps, in the kingdom of God, fernweh and heimweh are really the same longing. Whether we ache for something new, or whether we ache for something known, all our aches point us to God.

All our longings — even the unholy ones — are for the true Water that quenches our thirst and the true Bread that satisfies our hunger.

So when I desire this place, it’s really God I’m longing for. And when I desire another place, it’s God I long for there, too.

Jesus, the One who formed us from the dust and breathed the breath of life into us, knows this about us. That’s the reason that, right before He dies, He tells His disciples to “Make yourselves at home in my love” (John 15:9 MSG).

So whether I am at home, or whether I am longing for home, what I really want and what I really need is my true Home in Christ.

And when I feel fernweh, or when I feel heimweh, can I find in these yearnings the God who created them in the first place?

Can I truly find my home in His love?

 

How have you experienced “fernweh” (the longing for faraway places)?

How have you experienced “heimweh” (the longing for home)?

How do you respond to these longings?

*****In this post I’m simply responding to newly encountered words and the emotions they evoke in me. I welcome input on these words from the German speakers among us.*****

*****Many thanks to Amy Peterson, whose Facebook profile inspired this post.*****

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About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.

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