“For those who have no engineered place of holiday, God himself becomes the mountain of calm and the limitless sea spaces. By prayer and Bible reading and meditation, the drab life (drab externally) has glorious holiday hours with God in which the soul is restored even in the valley of deep darkness.” ~Oswald Chambers, from The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Run Today’s Race.
I was bitten by the travel bug early in life. My parents nearly ruined me and forever destroyed any chance of the possibility that I might find contentment at home by taking me to the beach and/or Walt Disney World every year as a child. It was from those early vacation destinations that my imagination took flight.
As a mountain child with Appalachian roots running deep, I was free to run wild through the hills and streams of my Northeast Tennessee home, ride my bicycle on the crime-free streets of my neighborhood, and dream about the castle (it looked like one to me!) on the faraway mountainside that was visible from the perch of my poplar tree rope swing. But exploring the natural beauty and sanctity of my own homeplace and just dreaming about distant lands wasn’t enough. I knew this at a very young age.
It was more than a “travel bug” that had bitten, I had most likely been born with the “wanderlust.” It sounds almost sinful, doesn’t it? I thought so the first time I heard it applied to me.
The word “wanderlust” is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “strong longing for or impulse toward wandering.” According to Wikipedia, “A contemporary German equivalent for the English word wanderlust, in the sense of “crave for travel”, is Fernweh (literally meaning “an ache for distant places”).” Another description of the word Fernweh is “farsickness.” I kind of like that. It fits me.
As a child, and even now as an adult, I escaped through books. The characters, the locations, the various periods of time…all carried me away on the adventures I craved and could never seem to find at home. Books served to stimulate my innate, God-given Fernweh. But overtime, escaping through books would never be enough.
I found myself impatiently nursing my farsickness through the school year, anxiously awaiting our annual family vacations. I longed to go to new places, and because my father shared a bit of the wanderlust with me, my desires were accommodated to an extent. Though our travels were somewhat limited to the southeastern United States, I was thrilled to get to explore so many of the amazing beautiful, historic, and romantic destinations of the South.
St. Augustine, New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah, Nashville, Atlanta,…these cities came alive with history for me. I could imagine the indescribable beauty mingled with the horror of the “olden days,” as I called them. The sweet scent of magnolias mixed with the malicious odor of slavery. My senses were alive, and my imagination ran wild as I created my own little dream worlds in which I pictured myself living and growing up in those places, those times…often a female Huck Finn, other times a champion of Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad, and still others a modern-day Nancy Drew, off on an adventure with a mystery to solve.
Daytona, Myrtle, Folly, Panama City, Vero, Isle of Palms…as a child these beaches enticed me to soak in the warmth of their sun, the salt of their waves, and the mystery of their wide open seas. I dreamed of sailing off their shores to distant lands, seeing colors and beauty I’d never seen before, meeting exotic people. Sometimes I imagined swimming further and further from the shore, until my legs ached and suddenly turned into a shimmering, glittering tail as I discovered the true reason for my wanderlust…I was actually a mermaid who belonged in the sea, free to swim the oceans of the world.
As a teenager, I couldn’t wait for our family vacations. I was allowed to invite friends along sometimes, and we were given some freedom to explore – “cruising the strip” at the beach, exploring Disney Parks without parents or little siblings to cramp our style. My childhood dreams were drowned out by teenage adventures, a taste of true freedom, meeting other teens, flirting with boys, baking my skin into a dark brown with Hawaiian Tropic oil (no SPF!), and spraying lemon juice or Sun-in in my hair to turn it golden (sometimes a little too orange-gold…). But still, there were those moments, when I was alone on the beach, or walking through the World Showcase at EPCOT, or down a cobblestone alley in Charleston, that I would be carried away to those childhood feelings of Fernweh. It was becoming a constant ache deep within my heart…Go. See. Explore…
As an adult, I married my high school sweetheart. Not a wanderer by nature, our short escape to Memphis for schooling didn’t last as he brought me back to my mountain homeplace to live. We are still here, though we travel as much as we can, venturing out further and further from home whenever possible. My husband, my soulmate, God’s choice for me… he is very different from me…but he has come to know me, and he understands and tries very hard to accommodate my wanderlust…my need to roam. But this wanderer remains home, for now, and we are raising our family in this small town amongst the mountains and lakes. It is beautiful, and somewhat quaint, and the people here are my family – either by blood or by choice. I am content…I try to convince myself…
But truth be told, the wanderlust, the Fernweh…it remains within me. I wrestle with it continuously. As I mature, I pray that the Lord will give me a contented spirit – content to “bloom where I am planted” and to serve Him and others no matter where I land. But taming this wild spirit isn’t easy. IS Fernweh a sin? Doesn’t the Bible tell me to be content, no matter what my circumstances? Truthfully, I have beat myself up with this over the years.
But, do I have to wrestle with this? Could it be that Fernweh is part of me, and that I’m not “me” without it? Can’t I be content, but retain the farsickness part of my soul?
A few years ago, I came across some quotes by C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors. This first one has become my “life quote,” so to speak:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” -C.S. Lewis
Does this explain my Fernweh? Could it be that my longing to travel, to move, to constantly pull up roots and wander is not a sin? Could it be that God never intended me to be content here, anywhere…save with Him?
Yes, I believe that is the answer. In fact, I am convinced of it. I am not longing to escape from home….rather, I am longing to go home. My incessant treasure hunt for beauty, adventure, the mountain-top experiences and the fathomless depths of the seas is not to be satisfied by my wanderings or my travels on this earth.
No, my Fernweh is much deeper than that. It is a longing to be with the One who created me, and created all of the beauty, adventure, and majesty of the Earth. My Fernweh is a longing to be with the One who knows me better than I know myself, and who wants to give me the desires of my heart – because He placed them there. (Psalm 37:4)
I am coming to terms with the fact that God created me this way – with this sense of “wanderlust.” Why fight it? Why not embrace it, and live it? Stay, go, and yet search no more, because no matter where I am…here, there, and beyond the deep blue sea…I know what I’ve been searching for…contentment of spirit, abiding love with God…and He is always with me.
So, though I travel, I am never “away” from home. I abide in Him, and He in me…whether on the mountaintop of glory, in the mysteries of the ocean depths, or in the valleys of despair. The beauty, the adventure, the exotic…they are within me, always, and I see them everywhere now. Instead of searching for the joy, I take the joy along. It is both home, and away. It is no longer elusive, just out of reach.
I’m learning to find my joy in the Lord, and in relationships with others, in service, and in life purpose.
My true longing is to be with Christ…and He is with me now, in Spirit, no matter where I roam. And, He is my future destination…I will see Him face to face, the Source of all beauty.
And because of this, I no longer have to constantly search for happiness and contentment. I can instead focus on others, and sharing the Source of my happiness and contentment with them…whether at home, or far away.
“It was when I was happiest that I longed most… The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…. to find the place where all the beauty came from.” – C.S. Lewis
This is my Fernweh.