Warning to my reader: this blog post will be an exploration, as I work through my own thoughts and feelings on my longing for heaven. Let me start with a C.S. Lewis quote:
“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 Lord has encouraged me and taught me many things in my private prayer life through this quote and the essay it comes from, The Weight of Glory. This essay expresses a lot of ideas, many of which I don’t fully grasp because C.S. Lewis was a pretty smart guy (smarter than me, apparently). But what I always take away from reading this essay—which I do from time to time when I’m looking for a little reminder of God’s beauty, the promise of heaven, and the sadness I feel on this earth—is a lesson about our personal longing to know God and to be with God.
An Often-Unnamed Homesickness
We all experience this longing for heaven (and we’re often shy to admit to it). Lewis talks about how we give this longing different names, like “nostalgia” or “romanticism.” I’d like to add some of my own to the list, such as “loneliness” and “homesickness.” I experience this feeling suddenly, often without warning or explanation. My day will be lovely and full and fun then, when I least expect it, I’ll stop moving and I’ll sit and I’ll think.
In these moments of introspection, I often feel this homesickness for a place I’ve never been. I feel an uneasiness of my soul that isn’t caused by specific force on this earth. I can’t pinpoint its cause or trace it back to a friend’s rude comment or a personal failure or an unpleasant memory. Rather, this homesickness washes over me in an undefined wave, causing me to long to return to some perfect moment that I can feel in the back of my heart like a long-forgotten memory of the soul.
This longing is often bitter-sweet, beautiful and sad, mixed with a sort of melancholy joy, all wrapped into one, creating an emotion that is difficult to define and difficult to describe. But I won’t labor too much in describing it because I have a suspicion that all humans feel this, even if they are reluctant to admit to it.
Let me tell you about times when I feel this homesickness. These moments often to happen to me at New Life Ranch, a Christian camp that I consider, in many ways, my spiritual home. It’s the place where I learned what it meant to follow Jesus and it’s the place where I found my first spiritual family in the friends I made there. It’s the place where I first remember experiencing something and thinking “this is getting close to what heaven will feel like.”
At this place, I often glimpse the beauty of the Lord, the presence of the Lord, and His promises of heaven. But because these moments of beauty and joy are so overwhelming, they bring with them quick flashes of sadness. Because I know I’m getting close to something. I can feel my spirit tuning into the other side, but there’s still a block. I’m getting close to Jesus, but there’s still a distance. And I feel sad because that distance will continue to persist while I’m on this earth filled with brokenness, sin, shame, longing, and despair.
I feel this homesickness when I sit on my porch, drinking a mug full of coffee, in the early morning. I feel this homesickness when I read some beautifully-written piece of literature by Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I feel this homesickness when eating lunch outdoors on a warm spring afternoon. I feel this homesickness when I’m listening to my favorite song, while putting my makeup on in the morning. I feel this homesickness on neighborhood drives, as I watch the beautiful homes pass me by.
These moments of homesickness are unexpected gifts from the Lord, as odd as it sounds. They’re times when He speaks to me, without words or clear ideas, reminding me of His presence. Reminding me that there’s more to connect with. Reminding me that I’m missing something, that there’s a hollowness inside of me that He has come to fill.
Breaking the Hearts of Their Worshippers
These moments, and the means through which we experience them, are good things. Literature and nature and music are gifts that Jesus has given us because, I think, they remind us of His identity and His beauty. I often experience the Lord through a book or film which weren’t created with the specific intention of spiritual edification. However, they edify me because these artists are expressing the heart of God without even realizing it.
But I must remind myself that the beauty I’m feeling isn’t coming from these things, rather, as Lewis said, it’s coming through them. God has created us all so that we experience and worship Him through different means, however, we can not, in our confusion, begin to worship these means for then they turn into dumb idols, leaving us unfulfilled and unsatisfied. I pray that the Lord, in these moments of connection or homesickness or whatever term you call it, will turn my heart, not to the earthly thing, but rather to Him.
The Door Will be Opened
It’s no surprise that I often feel alone on this earth. I often feel unfulfilled. I often feel homesick. In my heart, I know that there is more. I can connect with Jesus, yes. I can feel the Holy Spirit. And these experiences are satisfying and fulfilling and joyful. But I don’t always clearly experience the Holy Spirit, every moment of the day. Sometimes I feel a sadness that I can not name. A sadness that I am often ashamed of.
Yet the Lord reminds me that this sadness is Him whispering to me that better things are coming. For one day, I will be in heaven with Him. And that momentary glimpses of His beauty, those that I am only able to experience fleetingly on this earth, will become overwhelming and constant and eternal when I’m in Heaven with Him. Later in his essay, Lewis writes, “The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”
So join me in enjoying these moments of homesickness. Embrace the loneliness and isolation you sometimes feel. Because Jesus has promised us that He will end that sadness. He has defeated death already and one day, He will open the door on which we’ve been knocking our whole lives. He’ll welcome us inside. And we’ll finally be home.