I usually don’t spend much time thinking about Heaven. In fact, when this longing for Heaven surfaced in me, it was such a surprise that I didn’t even recognize it as such. Heaven, to me, was a word for the indescribable, wonderful place I hope to go when I die. It didn’t dawn on me that because we hold eternity—or heaven—in our hearts, we would feel a measure of homesickness in our souls all throughout our life on earth.
When all is said and done, no matter how sweet the event, how consoling the moment, there is always a deep longing within in us that cuts like a knife. It is a yearning that stirs even when (or perhaps most often when) the air is flooded with sunshine and the sky dazzles us with color and light. Out of nowhere comes this unutterable loneliness that we feel is in no way justified. Yet in the midst of our gratitude for the beauty of created things, we know in our very bones that there is something yet to be given. The emptiness is the mark and reminder of God. By this sense of what is not, we know what is and long for what is yet to be.
I felt this sense of longing so deeply on my first trip to Africa. I was not prepared for the onslaught of longing that was awakened within me. Never had I connected with a physical place on earth. Travel has always been something I deeply enjoyed, but usually by the end of the trip I was ready to go home. Not so with Africa. I wrote in my journal, “This country has stalked and captured my wandering heart.” I felt so very sad leaving. I actually entertained thoughts of running away from home. It wasn’t one thing, like the beauty of the land, yet it was beautiful; it was some mesmerizing combination of everything—seeing amazing animals, the relationships, the aliveness I felt in my soul just waking up in Africa.
I felt the stirrings of this yearning while I was there, but about three days before I had to leave, it knocked on my door with authority. What is going on with me? Why don’t I want to go home? I was afraid to answer the door and face the longing—something must be missing that I was experiencing for the first time. And I clearly didn’t want to leave it behind.
On the flight home, I opened that door, and an overflowing longing flooded my soul. The things I had tasted in Africa had awakened a hunger in me that I wasn’t sure could ever be satisfied. To be in a place with animals (not dogs and cats—hello?) and feel a sense of the wildness of life instead of the daily familiar workload had been extraordinary. To sit around a big table and enjoy fellowship with people who had lived all over the world had been so exciting. At the end of each day, when the heat started to subside and the cooling began, I breathed in the air of a simpler earth, and I loved it so very much.
And the day I had to leave Africa, I felt more deeply than I had before that I was made for more, that my longing for Africa was bigger than Africa. Because if I could move there, and I did weigh it, by the time I got there, it wouldn’t be the same. My time there was a glimpse—it was a taste—of what I now believe Heaven must be like, if for no other reason that what the longing promises by it’s existence in my heart.