I had that dream again. It’s never the same, but the location is. I guess some places are so tied to our emotions in a visceral way that we can’t shake ourselves free of them.
In my dream, I’m back in Amsterdam … I don’t remember all the details, but I always wake up with that aching sense of homesickness. I call it homesickness – I think the proper word might be nostalgia. Bittersweet nostalgia – pulled to the surface by the adventures we’ve had these past weeks.
Over the last week, I have walked down trails of remembrance with my family. It started at the ocean. Walking down the boards, my husband told us stories of when he was younger and the memories carved into that beach. We re-lived his memories and made new ones along the way.
We worshiped at the church he grew up in, hugged and kissed faces that had watched him become the man he is today. We saw old schools, drove by old banks and post offices, and ate way too much pizza. We drove by the beach where he learned to swim, and saw the brick steps of his old house, where a 6 year old Brad sat with his mom and asked Jesus to be Lord of his life.
It was beautiful and fun. I love hearing the stories that come when we are in these special kind of places. And yet in the quiet moments, I found myself feeling an ache creep across my soul.
An ache for my own memories. My dreams bring me back to Amsterdam, but there are other places. Ones that pull at my heart even stronger. They live on only in my mind … changed forever by the ravages of war. Places I haven’t seen since I was 14 – places I can never return to.
There are foods I try to describe to my children, but the words don’t exist to really capture the sense. It would be impossible to find a way for someone to feel the sticky wet air of Africa, the smells that fill your senses, the noises that are so rich – and yet it’s all so different. Sometimes I wonder if my memories are accurate – it’s been so long. How my heart longs to walk those red dirt roads one more time, to experience the wild cacophony and colors of the Liberian marketplace!
Nostalgia is a strange beast. It seems to always be there, waiting for the right trigger to explode in your heart. But like an itch you can’t reach, it’s an ache that can’t be filled. So what do we do with these strange longings that surface and call our hearts to other times and places?
I wonder if this is what Ecclesiastes 3:11 means when it says that God has “set eternity in the heart of man”. One version says He has planted eternity in our hearts – like a seed that grows ever bigger, beckoning us to another time and place. We think it’s a longing for the past, when in reality it’s a longing for our future home. Our longing for heaven, for that one good that will never end, is wrapped up in these exquisite remembrances, carrying so much joy and pain in the same breath.
In 1 Chronicles we read that our days on earth are like a shadow – A shadow is but a distorted reflection of what is real. We are filled with this sense that this life is all so fleeting, but someday we will live in what is real and will never be lost. And so we call it names like nostalgia, and we long for the “good old days” when life was simpler.
C. S. Lewis puts it so much better, of course. “Apparently,” he says, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”
Keep reading! He says, “In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… If [we go] back to those moments in the past, [we] would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what [we] remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering… 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.”
When the pangs hit my heart, I think of what is to come. And I marvel that when Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us, He meant it – a home that will never end, a safety that cannot be taken from us, an eternity that won’t rust or fade.
It leaves me hungry for heaven. How about you?