Next month, I’ll have been writing on this blog for a year. This week, I’ve been in Switzerland for seven months. Only seven months! I have to remind myself that each month seems so long to me, but really the time is passing quickly.
It’s nice to sit here cracking pistachio shells in silence. The salt of the pistachios stings under my thumbnail where the sharp shells have worn the skin. My pen bobbles across the page writing down n’importe quoi as I nibble dates off their pits. When I’m tired, my mind wanders even more easily than it does when I’m well-rested. Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating how little my brain sticks to one trail of thought. And the languages are switching back and forth in my mind. Sometimes—more and more often—it takes a concentrated effort to stick to one language or the other.
Do I miss home? Yes. Yet I don’t feel discontent here. I learned of a word recently, the word saudade. (Yes, we were talking about Portuguese words in French class!) Saudade is a type of nostalgic longing for something, but unlike the English word homesick, to say you have saudade doesn’t imply that you aren’t happy. It’s a sort of melancholy that lingers, whether it be for people, places, or things, yet it’s a longing that co-exists with contentment. (Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about Portuguese. I’m trusting my professor, some Brazilian exchange students, and Wikipedia on this one, so bear that in mind).
I’m nostalgic. I’m excited to go back, to return to a kind of idealised hot, sweaty, sunny Nebraska summer. Horses, strawberries, garage sailing . . . ! I was reflecting the other day that my senior year of high school—a mere four years ago—was full of both good and bad, yet when I look back, I already see the whole experience with a kind of cheerful innocence that delights in the many early and cold mornings at the barn and forgets all of the awful bits. Only four years ago . . . it feels like half a lifetime ago. Here’s the thing though: For me, that feeling isn’t that far off from the truth; four years is nearly a quarter of my lifetime ago.
A good reminder, if ever I’ve had one, to delight in this time of life too. I’m grateful for all I’ve been through; I’ve enjoyed it; I’ve learned from it. Even in the lowest points, I was given opportunities to enjoy my Creator and His creation. With a few more years, I’ll look back on this time and remember the moments I delighted in just as I can look back on those hot summers at the barn and forget the grime, the bruises, and the tears to instead remember those moments when all was well: water bottle fights, taking a cold shower with a horse after a sweaty ride, an exhilarating moment of perfectly in-sync riding.
The longing will always be there. I begin to understand the meaning of the dream that calls to me in sad and happy times; the dream that, in some glorious place, we, the people I love and I, will all be together in joy, in unity, in love, in peace. Every time I look back with longing, what I’m looking back on are the glimpses of this dream concretely realised in our world; the moments when earthly love was, for a moment, so clearly Divine; moments when dozens of people came together in singing, in dancing, in laughing—in short, moments of perfect beauty.
I recently re-read C.S. Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces. The character Psyche faces imminent death; below is an excerpt of her farewell to her sister.
It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine . . . Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I could’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home . . . I am going, you see, to the Mountain. You remember how we used to look and long? And all the stories of my gold and amber house, up there against the sky, where we thought we should never really go? The greatest King of all was going to build it for me. If only you could believe it, Sister! . . . The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the god of the Mountain has been wooing me. Oh, look up once at least before the end and wish me joy. I am going to my lover.
I would like to think that here, Lewis took a moment to develop what a Christian’s longing for Heaven can look like. In the happiest moments, Psyche says she longed most for the source of the beauty around her; even when facing death, she’s joyfully anticipating the reunion with the King she’s been longing for, going so far even as to call him her lover.
What is this, then, that I’m learning? It’s this: the dream is not a dream, but a hope. I have an unshakeable hope that Christ’s Kingdom will be just as Lewis describes above, just as my dream suggests—that is, that Heaven is the place where Beauty Himself resides, where the Creator of all reigns, and where my longing will finally be satisfied, for it is there that my home really is. And it will be so much more than what I anticipate, so much more glorious than I can imagine. What a privilege to be a citizen of Christ’s Kingdom!
In Philippians 3:7-4:1, Paul writes:
But whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in Heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
I know that’s a long passage, but it’s one that gives me much hope. There will be a day when the Kingdom is a physical reality. Then, the longing will be over, and we will finally be united forever in love.
Until then, I’ll be straining forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I’ll fix my eyes on my Saviour. It’s a terrifying thing to pray “Your will be done, no matter what that looks like.” It’s perhaps even more daunting to pray, “Be honoured and glorified above all else, Lord Jesus.” What a hit to my pride! Yet that is exactly what I’ve been praying for the past year. From the time I knew I would be studying abroad to the selection of the school to the stressful visa process to the first few weeks to the first semester of classes and now to this second semester, I’m seeking the glory of my Captain first and foremost. That surrender can be frightening, but it’s worth it, because ultimately what I long for is His Kingdom. He’s the most important in my life.
Going back to Nebraska will be exciting. I’ll also be faced with how much everyone and everything—myself included—has changed over this past year. Of course I miss home, but it’s more saudade than homesickness. Because once home, I’ll miss this place too. I’ve learned how to delight in my Creator’s work here—not only have I met some fantastic people, but I truly have come to enjoy Swiss culture. I’ll miss the multilingual environment for sure, but even more, I’ll miss the quiet reservedness, the feeling of peace that comes when all the stores close at 7pm, and the challenge that living here presents. And I’ll miss the mountains, the lakes, the fields with quiet milk cows, the village architecture . . . I won’t miss any of that more or less than I now miss wild prairie, big sky, chili and cinnamon rolls, and the comfort of knowing everyone and everything. One could say, perhaps studying abroad is like opening Pandora’s Box—perhaps you doom yourself to a life of in-betweens and constant nostalgia. But no, it’s too fatalistic to think that way. Really, I’ve simply been faced in a more powerful way than ever before with the reality that what I’m ultimately longing for isn’t going to happen here on this earth. Thanks be to God, I have full assurance that that fulfilment will happen.
Until then, here I stand. Upon the Gospel of Christ, upon the hope for His Kingdom, upon His death and resurrection—on these things I stake my claim. Forgetting what lies behind, I strive for what lies ahead: a reunion with my Maker, the One who loves me more than anyone else, the source of all Beauty. I’m so very much looking forward to His return!
Note: about half of this post was written a month ago, but I wasn’t able to finish it then. When I sat down to write this morning, I saw the half-written post and found it a good springboard for today. So you’ll forgive me for writing that I was eating pistachios today: I wasn’t; I was eating them a month ago 😀