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

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.*****

Searching for Home


It’s hard to describe the turbulence of soul that comes from being on the move, always unsettled. You cannot be still and breathe deeply. You cannot love the wild-growing front-lawn tulips too much, or the way the sunlight turns the living room into a golden elven forest in the afternoon. They will soon be gone. And with every big move, you are the new person all over again, trying to make friends at double-speed, weary of explaining where you came from and why you’re here.

We have lived in our current home in Taipei for thirteen months, the longest in any one place for nearly four years. This dubious “longevity” doesn’t prevent my gut fear of another uprooting. Experience leaves an imprint of expectation in our hearts. The nomadic lifestyle began in earnest when we finished seminary, after which a pastoral job and preparation to be missionaries led us to several different cities and even more homes. We moved twelve times in a span of two and a half years, and it hurt my heart terribly.

At nearly every house or apartment I resolutely unpacked everything, decorated the walls with my grandmother’s paintings and the children’s art, and brought cookies when meeting our new neighbors. I tried to make each place a home, even if it would not last long. And I grieved the loss of our previous home and the life we had built there.

I grew up in one place, but without knowing it, even then I longed to be home. I kept subtly searching for something that tingled like a phantom limb; it had to be there—my entire being reached out for it! Or was it only an untouchable dream?

I can relate to Peter when he tells Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). I reflect with some self-pity, perhaps like Peter, that we have left our family and our friends and our homeland to follow Christ. I know that dying to myself is the only path to life and abiding happiness, but even so, my heart is burdened in the midst of loss.

Jesus responds to Peter’s outburst with a longer-term view:

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

His words, though demanding, are a balm to my soul. God has fulfilled the temporal part of the promise many times over. We have been welcomed into the physical homes of fellow believers when we were in need, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family in every way. But even more so, the fleeting losses of following Christ are nothing compared to the eternal gain.

The ESV Study Bible notes that “Jesus assures the disciples that they have answered the call and are blessed.” This pain of being between worlds is not a logistical problem, but a sign of following His call. It’s not a sign that we are failures as missionaries, but that the redemption of the world is costly. Christ bore the greatest cost of all.

The home we long for is not a phantom or a dream: we were created to yearn for our Lord’s lovely dwelling place. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2). In his earthly life, Jesus shared in our homelessness. He left his perfect heavenly home to rescue us from our sin; he had no place to lay his head. And he will return to remedy our aching hunger with the ultimate Home he prepares for us even now, where there will be no more crying or pain because the former things have passed away.