This reflection, drawn from a recent sermon, was written by Amanda McMillen.

[Abraham] set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents… They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:8-16)

I was recently in a foreign land, much like Abraham in this passage from Hebrews. Well okay probably not that much like Abraham. But I’m one of those people who loves traveling to new places but HATES the actual travel part. Every form of transportation scares me. And so I hit a low point in London where all day we’d been trying to understand how the Underground works. We got off, realized we’d missed a boat tour that we had already paid for, and then my husband Brian accidentally stepped on my toe really hard. Poor me, right? I thought so. So we found a bathroom where I could clean up the blood on my foot and realized you had to pay to use the public bathrooms, and it was in this moment, as I was trying to figure out which queen’s head coin was worth what, that my eyes started welling up with tears, and all I wanted was to be home in Charlottesville, Virginia, alone on my couch, with my cat.

We’ve probably all felt homesick while traveling, but we also sometimes feel it in ways we don’t expect, like when we’re at home. For example, Fridays are the start of my weekend, and every Thursday night I get excited thinking about how I’ll spend those hours to myself. And then I wake up Friday morning, sit on the couch with my coffee and my cat in my lap — the same happy place that I wanted when I was crying in front of the bathroom in London — and think, “Hmmm. Everyone I could hang out with right now is at work.” And I’m already bored. I thought I wanted to be alone, I thought Friday off would be the best thing ever, and then it comes and it’s fine. But that’s it. I’m home, but I still have that homesick feeling.

In the passage from Hebrews, the author describes Abraham’s journey to a distant and foreign land to receive an inheritance promised by God. And the text says that he felt like a stranger and exile on the earth, a man seeking a homeland. We can all relate to this feeling of being a stranger in our homesickness, right? Maybe we had expectations for how something ought to be, and it isn’t what we’d hoped. We feel dissatisfied and miss what we don’t have. We romanticize travel, and then we feel homesick when we’re away. Or we romanticize being home, and then feel homesick when we’re at home. And sometimes we feel homesick even while surrounded by the people we love most.

Think about your last family vacation. It’s fresh on our minds, it’s that time of the year. You plan it out for six months ahead of time. In my family, everyone has conflicting opinions, but you somehow manage to plan it anyway. You finally get there, and no one wants to do the same thing. You went on a beach vacation, but half the people don’t actually want to go to the beach. For some reason, we have vacation amnesia and have these high expectations for the perfect week with the people we love, and we all manage to hurt each other’s feelings by the end of it.

We think something’s going to be perfect, and it’s not. We desire something more. Things fall flat. We forget that London is dirty and the Underground is crowded, and you actually are not at all a city person.

One of my favorite songwriters, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, wrote a beautiful song called “Riches and Wonders” with the line, “I keep you safe from harm, you hold me in your arms, and I want to go home, but I am home.” In a podcast interview, Darnielle says, “When I say ‘I want to go home,’ it’s sad. It means I want to leave this place…and yet he (the narrator of the song) is in love, but he can’t rid himself of the desire to go home to another place… I want to go home, but unfortunately I am already home.”

Something in us wants something that isn’t here. We have a deep desire for things to be good and perfect, but that’s not what we experience. In a relationship like this song describes, that can be a troubling insight and eventually, I think, a beautiful, healing, and gracious one, as we feel inspired to have grace for each other. But at first it’s terrible. I remember right after getting married, realizing that marrying Brian didn’t solve all of my problems, and that was a rude awakening. Nothing in this life, whether it’s our family, our vacation, our marriage, our Friday off…nothing fully satisfies like we always hope and think it will.

Of course, we also experience homesickness for a better world in larger, systemic, and horribly sad ways. Two years ago this weekend, people of color did not feel at home and safe in our city, Charlottesville. African Americans who have endured a dark, racist history, and a dark, racist present, may not feel at home in their neighborhoods. Things are not as they ought to be. We are all seeking a homeland where we can finally rest.

Abraham set out without knowing where he was going by faith. And it was by faith because that’s all he had. He had nowhere else to go except to the foreign land. Remember, Abraham is married to Sarah, who is barren, and his God tells him to move to a distant land, and you will do well and you will have tons of kids. Which was very important then. So of course he did it! Abraham walked by faith because he was helpless. He was at the end of his rope. So he walked and endured homesickness.

This is our story, too. We experience homesickness for a perfect country or perfect relationships, and we feel a pain in us that says, “Something is not right.” We say the provoking thing to our spouse for the third time in a week and remember: communicating is hard and I can be very selfish…for example.

I don’t want you to think that a good Christian ought to feel less at home. Homesickness is something no one ought to feel; it’s just something we do experience, all the time. This is the human condition — to be somewhat unsatisfied, even in happy moments, in everyday small ways, and in deep and systemic ways. We may not even realize that we’re desiring something specific, a different home, the city that has foundations, but I believe we all are, every day.

Remembering our common humanity can lead us to have compassion for each other. It connects us. It helps us to forgive one another when we step on each other’s toes or say something unkind to someone we love.

But God gives us more than just community and compassion for one another, as wonderful and important as that is. It’s at this place of hopelessness and homesickness where we meet our crucified Lord and where we meet hope. We do the only thing we can do in our hopelessness. We look to the cross.

At the cross, we see the essence of homesickness. From the line of Abraham — the man who left his home because he desperately desired a legacy of children — from his line, we received our savior. Our Lord left his home on the throne, and came to our distant and foreign and crooked land, as a baby in a mother’s arms. And he was homesick often. He was tempted. He wept. He prayed in the early mornings. He asked for God to take the cup of suffering from him, because he knew what it meant. But thank God his will is not the same as our will, and he did not despair. He also did not force joy. He walked willingly to the cross, where his blood was poured out and his body broken. He endured this world of sin, took it upon his body, felt deep homesickness from his home with his Father, so that we, his beloved children, could finally be restored to our true home.

This is the good news, and it’s our one hope in a world of homesickness and dissatisfaction. Our God knows what we feel, personally and deeply, and he walks with us. He loves us truly and fully in our honest human condition, in all our ungratefulness and dissatisfaction, and he welcomes us home, finally, into his arms, forever. Where there is redemption, healing, and eventually, no more tears. Where there is a city with strong foundations and a resurrected Jesus.

And it’s here, today, remembering that promise of God where you can exhale, and know that he has not forgotten you in your homesickness and he will not let you go. Amen.