When I leave a hotel — not a budget hotel, but a place where I’ve found some rest and renewal — I feel like I’m being uprooted. “I’ll never be back here again,” I think to myself. “I liked it here.”
Crazy. I have a home. I don’t need to feel homesick when I’m leaving a temporary abode to return to where I live.
But I get it. In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel writes about our longing for home. Home is our most fundamental longing, she writes. And for many of us, homesickness is a nagging place of grief.
I love the feeling of turning west from Strachan onto East Liberty Street in Toronto. It’s an intersection designed to frustrate the most patient of souls. You will wait at the light longer than reasonable. Three cars will cut you off when it’s your time to turn. The street is too narrow, and the roads are muddy with construction. And yet every time I’m away and return, I’m happy. I’m home.
We lived for twenty years in a bungalow in west Toronto. I knew every inch of that property: where the rhubarb kept growing back, where the water tended to puddle, where the fence had a gap. I should have loved that place.
And yet when our car pulled out of the driveway for the last time, I didn’t feel like I’d left home. I was excited about what lay ahead. We’ve never longed to go back.
The irony of our homesickness is that we never feel completely at home in any place. Some places are better fits than others. As I mentioned, I sometimes even feel at home in a hotel room. But I’ve never truly felt settled. I find myself always looking for more. I’m always a little bit homesick.
I Love This Place
And yet I love this place.
I don’t want to try to transcend my location to be everywhere. I want to be present here in this place, with these people.
I don’t want to pastor everywhere. I want to belong to this community, to walk its streets, to plant my roots here and stay.
Years ago a pastor challenged me to consider a lifelong commitment to Toronto. He didn’t have a chapter or verse. He just mentioned that so many seemed to go from place to place and that not many stay long enough in one place to make a difference. What if I loved a city long enough to spend my entire ministry there? He did, and the impact of his ministry is profound.
What if we stayed long enough to love a place and make a difference there?
In his book A Big Gospel in Small Places, Stephen Witmer writes:
“I love this town.” At the heart of every successful ministry, in communities of every conceivable size, is love: love for Christ and for the places where he called us. When we truly love a particular place and the people who live there, we won’t seek to transcend it — instead, we will gladly give our lives to it. Perhaps we can learn to love our call places the way Jesus does. Perhaps in losing our lives there, we will find them.
This place. These people. This homesick heart. Love. Who knows what will happen?