It’s been six and a half years now since we moved back to the States from living overseas. I know many who read the articles here have been on a similar journey to us, of finding ‘normal’ back in the States.
But is there really, truly a ‘normal’ once we have invested our hearts overseas? Just this past summer I lost my father and almost twenty years ago, my mother. I know a piece of me left this world with each of them, and I will not get it back until I am with them forever.
It is similar when we grieve the ending of our time in another country. We will no longer be living amidst its beauty — mostly its people but also its culture. Whether God calls us to another country or place overseas, or we return to the States, we must acknowledge that a piece of ourselves will remain in that ‘lost home.’ It will be lost to us until we experience full healing and the new life of the new heaven and the new earth.
So what do we do with the pain of this separation? How do we deal with this cutting away, this stripping bare of a place we have so deeply loved? Amidst other things, we learn to enter this pain as we embrace our lives as sojourners.
Because of my mental illness journey, we left long before we were ready. And there was an appalling lack of closure in our relationships. The door closed to returning long-term, and a visit has not even been possible.
But even if we could go back, it wouldn’t be the same. Our beloved flat would no longer be ours. Many of our friends would be gone, and the life missed together could not be returned to us. The reality of that place no longer being our home is an aching thing, a gaping wound, and we have to embrace this truth.
This processing our grief is one which involves much grace given to ourselves, as much grace as is needed. We cry when we need to, we ache inside without stuffing the discomfort of this, we ask the ‘why’ question to our God. And we learn to live with the silence.
We are sojourners who are forever cut off from our first home–Eden. All of humanity either remains hopelessly lost to home or learns to embrace the life of a sojourner headed to our true Home. I love C.S. Lewis’ reflections of this in The Weight of Glory, available in its entirety here. He says:
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
The people we have loved, the place which has been our home, reveals our longing for a perfect world which we will never leave. And if held incorrectly, our longing for this home or any home we have known can shatter our hearts, our very selves. Thus, we must learn to embrace the sojourners that we are.
There isn’t a step-by-step blueprint marked out for us. We each must learn to chart our own way, even as we reach out to other grieving sojourners — spouses, children, brothers and sisters of all kinds. In so doing, we find our way to great visions of life forever sharing in the stories of all the saints. It is the life we missed, redeemed and regained.
This embracing of a sojourning life also paves the way for the life yet before us. For my husband and myself, we have been led to uproot our comfortable, re-settled lives to join a ministry that resettles refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants. In now choosing this life, we did not settle for a “sort-of overseas experience” since we are working with those from overseas. No. It is the pure gift of our sojourning identity. We have learned to see the imprint of our own journey as strangers in another land, and through it we welcome the strangers to the country in which we now live.
In speaking of this embracing, I know I have not arrived yet at my destination, at the perfect knowing of my forever home. As long as I draw breath here, I never will.
And neither will you. The deep pain of loss is with us until our every tear is wiped away in the arms of the Redeemer of All. Yet we enter those arms bit by bit and step by step, as we release our white knuckling of home here. And in this, we receive the light of perfect love which will overcome the darkness of our grief, every time.
Friend, I pray God breathes hope into your sojourning life right now. I am asking our God of grace to shine his face upon you and comfort you in the pain of loss from any home you have known in this world. I am listening to the quietness of an Eden, a perfection, and its promise to be fully restored. Even more, I hold onto the deeper promise that this perfection will never be lost again.
Your fellow sojourner and friend,