“Maybe you had to leave in order to really miss a place; maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.”-Jodi Picoult
“Who is that man sitting in the foyer?”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Even though I was surrounded by women in the meeting room of the large church we attended, I felt isolated as I heard several ladies whispering about the strange man who sat alone in the dark entryway. I knew it seemed odd, so finally, I mustered up my courage and informed them that it was my husband.
What I didn’t tell them? This was part of our “deal” to help me move on. We’d been at our first military assignment for a handful of months and I wasn’t handling it well. Desperately homesick for my family, our church, and our old friends, I longed for what had been, which made it impossible to move forward.
Perhaps a part of me figured if I gave in to my misery, I could somehow go home and have things the way they used to be. Looking back now, I recognize that I was going through the classic stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, and so on.
It would be an understatement to say I did not initially embrace military spouse life.
I also didn’t tell them what my husband had said--the words that had brought me to their meeting that day.
“I’m buying you a plane ticket home...one-way, if that’s what you want.”
Those words from my husband shocked me. He’d recognized how unhappy I was, and wondered if the solution was for me to go back home...and stay there. The realization of my self-absorption was the shock I needed to move forward. I’d committed to being married and needed to embrace life with just the two of us.
Since I was too shy to go to any of the spouses’ groups through our church or the military (which would be laughable to anyone who knows me now), my husband offered to go along with me and wait outside if I would just try something. Anything. (I’m telling you, he was desperate!) So, he drove me to a women’s Bible study and waited for me in the foyer through the two-hour meeting, while I made an awkward attempt at branching out.
How adorable is that!
Though times have changed since the early days of our marriage and it’s so much easier to become educated about military culture online, find a spouses’ group through social media, and make connections, I believe there is something that hasn’t changed—the lost feeling of being absorbed into this monolithic thing that is the world of the military, of wondering if you’ll ever find your place in it. There will always be a part of us that longs for real-life friendship.
If I could go back and give that young woman some advice, I would tell her that home will take on a new meaning. Home will have more to do with the people you love and the life you create, rather than a specific location. Your feeling of home will probably be in several places at once. And homesickness will fade as you create a new sense of home, no matter where you happen to live. And I would tell her,
Hang in there. I promise this will get better.
Some ideas for dealing with homesickness:
Exercise the art of positive thinking. Some of us have the “glass half full” mindset. While we like to think we’re looking at life realistically, continuing to embrace detrimental honesty has the potential of turning into an unhealthy pattern. Proverbs 27:3 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he…” I often have to force myself into thinking positively and taking action. Some areas that I needed to tackle were not complaining so much or immediately focusing on perceived negatives.
Reach out...strike up a conversation. You might create a new friendship--one not based on how long you’ve known someone.
Record your memories. It’s important to remember where we’ve been and record our unique family history. Create digital scrapbooks or find some other way to memorialize your memories and places you’ve visited. I know one woman who creates a photo canvas from her family’s favorite travels and has walls covered with memories! For you, maybe it’s something as simple as a wall hanging with a list of the locations you’ve been stationed.
Take baby steps. It can seem like things will never get better. While in the course of writing my book, I began a running program (I have no idea why!). I couldn’t get through a mile without walking when I first began. Now, after many months of continuing to put one foot in front of the other, I’ve successfully completed a 10k and find myself training for a half-marathon, something I could have never envisioned when I started! Realize that you don’t have to know exactly how things will turn out--take baby steps now and trust that the path ahead of you will unfold as you persevere.
Time and patience heal a lot. Clichés are clichés because they have some truth to them. While it may not be helpful to you to hear right now that “time heals all wounds,” please trust that it does. As does patience.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely…” (Psalms 25:16).
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
“God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).
Think About It
What part of what was do you find the hardest to let go of in your military spouse life?
Can you find one thing you like about your new location or circumstance and remind yourself of this? Repeat daily!
A Prayer for When You're Feeling Homesick
Dear Lord, Help me to remember that, even when I feel lonely, I am never truly alone because you are with me. Help me recognize the reminders of your presence each day. Remind me to lean on you when I feel abandoned and desolate. Amen
Excerpted from my book, You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse.