The Spiritual Discipline of Not Staying Put
Instead of planting roots, what if God wants us to have wings?
It turns out boys (and maybe this is true for men too) do love adventure. But they like it best when there’s a safe harbor to return to. Like the kind a home provides. And by that I mean a home built on a foundation, not the floating kind.
I discovered this truth in the course of house hunting after our live-aboard year had ended. When we asked our sons which house they liked best of the ones we were considering, Jackson, then 12, sighed and said, “I just want a place that stays a place.”
Even though our boat had served us well, providing shelter night after night no matter where we tied up, it didn’t satisfy his intrinsic need for roots. Being transient takes its toll. To wake up every day, never knowing what the next dock will look like or who your neighbors will be, creates a type of “adventure fatigue.” Even the hardiest voyagers crave the familiar.
Our son’s deep need for a sense of place took me by surprise. I’ve spent much of my adult life enduring the pain of God prying my fingers loose from the places I called home. The first one was the worst. We’d bought a house soon after getting married and quickly grew our family, and in the eight years that followed, we became immersed in our community, our church, and the local schools, all within an hour of our extended families. Our roots sank deep.
But then a much-needed job surfaced, and it was time to leave. The day I drove out of town, the life I’d known receded in the rearview mirror. If my heart was a flower, it had been yanked violently from the ground. Would I survive the transplant, much less ever flourish again?
Just as we were settling into our new city, a house fire displaced us once again. Only this time, we underwent the especially difficult experience of not only losing our “place” but all of our stuff with it. After this, I vowed never to let myself become emotionally attached to a home or my possessions again. It was the fire that made 100 ports possible.
Letting go of place had been a theme between God and me for years. The fire put an end to it. While I enjoy and am deeply grateful for the home we now live in, I don’t feel attached to it. If God called us to leave, I’m confident I could go without undue emotional angst. Yes, I’d miss our neighbors and the blessing of the sweet space where our boundary lines now fall. But for me, not staying put has been a spiritual discipline. The practice of not holding tightly to the places God has given me has been an exercise in trust and contentment.
In his article, “The Spiritual Discipline of Staying Put,” Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove contends that Americans move around because of their drive to move up. We forsake place for personal ambition. In the process, we deny the communities where we live the power of our presence, the power of staying put.
Moving for me isn’t—and never has been—about moving up. I went kicking and screaming the first time. Now, though, I stay open to moving out of a desire to go where God wants me to go when he asks me to go. Without looking back. Without longing for what I once had.
Craig Bartholomew, author of Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today is concerned about the current “crisis of place” modern society is facing. Displacement is wreaking havoc on our communities, not to mention our souls. After a year at sea, our son, Jackson, intuitively knew this to be true.
And yet throughout history God has called people to leave. Abraham left Ur; the Israelites left Egypt. Along the way, they all longed for a place to call home—a place that stays a place. But being transient helped them see that they were aliens in a strange land—this world was not their home. Ultimately they had to learn to see God as place. Whether a cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night; a tent or a temple, a boat or a house—God always has and always will define and determine our place.
How is he defining yours?