Friday, January 4, 2013

Muddled Instincts About Home

Yesterday's drive from Pittsburgh to St. Louis might have been my weepiest trip ever. I have a couple of guesses why, but the main reason, I think, is that after more than a decade of living elsewhere and spending only brief stints with my family, I'm beginning to feel stretched thin.

I've had the opportunity to live in several cities while pursuing different levels of education -- four years in Roanoke, Virginia, three years in New Haven, two in the San Francisco Bay area, and now over three years in St. Louis. I rarely thought twice about moving somewhere new. It just came with the territory of my chosen field. Not to mention, it was fun, and an unusual privilege, to get to live in such diverse regions throughout my 20s. I have good memories and have found something to love about each place that I've lived.

In the past couple of years, though, my tolerance for distance seems to have sharply declined. In fact, I am tired of moving, and the adventure of relocation is beginning to feel lost on me. I guess that's fitting, in a sense. It's a good thing to want to put down roots, and for them to grow deep instead of staying shallow. And there's no denying that practically all of my roots, dating back many generations, are in Western Pennsylvania. It makes sense that my longing for a stable home would be directed there, and it accounts for why, each time I leave, I start to feel sadder and sadder as the topography grows flatter and the names less familiar as we head southwest. I feel like there is less of me available to stretch so far, that I won't last very much longer if I have to keep doing it. I'm not so sure I'm built for this.

Of course, as I think about it, it's ridiculous to grumble about 12 years away; many people have sacrificed so much more to spend decades serving in farther-flung locations, seeing the people they love more rarely than I do, and perhaps never getting to return. It's not as if this is an exile! I have so little to complain about.

At the same time, I seem to have absorbed a notion that my status as a Christian disciple is measured by the extremity of the location in which I end up. While I should be willing to gladly go wherever I am called, that surely can't be right. At the very least, it shouldn't be right that I feel guilty for longing to move back home. Is it? It doesn't seem right to feel ashamed of wanting to live near the people who have given the most to me and within the landscape that is most familiar and formative for me. (Note that I am not even necessarily wanting to move back to my hometown. I am thinking in terms of, say, serving a rural church in an adjacent county. I could even be okay with teaching at a small college in the West Virginia panhandle or eastern Ohio. Even an hour's distance would be less wrenching.)

I guess this is an instance where balance is needed; just the thing I so often lack. I do know that blood ties are not the ultimate good. If I cast aside everything in the belief that a move home would supply what feels lacking and make me content, I might very well find it to have been a false and empty hope. I know that I will never feel fully at home anywhere in this life.

Part of me wants very much to pray that a door will open up in the next few years to allow us to move closer to my childhood home. I hope that isn't wrong. I know I need to be willing to go wherever the Lord will send us, trusting that He will provide for us there. He has always done that for me, and for us as a young household; He is our constant. But, if I'm honest, I'm not yet able to pray sincerely that I am willing to go wherever God would have us. A lot of messy work will need to happen in my heart before I can.


  1. Hi Dear. This year, I'm resolving to comment more on my friends' posts and blogs.

    I feel like this often. I miss my family so much. Like you, I know what it's like to grow up with so many people I love surrounding me. And having kids adds a whole new dimension to wanting your family near you. Even apart from the practical desire to have my parents or grandparents near me to help with Sophie, I have a personal longing to share who I am growing into with my family.

    We never stop growing. And these are the years when we're finally able to become the people we are called to be. Of course, our whole lives are part of this process, but now we're beginning to form our families and our careers, and settle into these lives, and while that means we have independence from the families we came from, it also means we yearn to share all this with them, to be adults with the adults who have been so formative to our growth.

    I know what you mean when you say, "I seem to have absorbed a notion that my status as a Christian disciple is measured by the extremity of the location in which I end up." I recognize a parallel within myself. I'd like to think that I wouldn't take pride in living halfway around the world if I were called to do so; like I'd recognize my service just as much if if occurred in my own back yard as I would if it occurred in an impoverished country far away. But I do know that I am afraid that I will feel like less of a Christian if I don't feel ready to pick up and move if I am called to do so. That's very similar; still feeling like my status as a Christian depends on what I'm willing to give up and the lengths to which I will go. Right now I'm nervous because I've been told that the bishop of the Diocese of Long Island is determined not to send any candidates to General Seminary, the only Episcopal seminary I could go to that would allow Alex to keep his job. I know theoretically that there are people who live off of savings and scholarships to go to seminary even when their spouses can't find work. I know that people give up so much for God, and that the Scripture tells us these stories over and over... discipleship is about sacrificing all for that pearl of great price... and yet. I am terrified of that. I don't know what I might have to give up to serve, and I don't know what my limits are. I sometimes wonder if I'm cut out for this life.

    Suddenly, I'm at a loss for words of comfort, except to say I'm right there with you in your anxiety and longing for your family. I'm too filled with similar anxiety to be honest if I were to offer advice. I want to say, though, that I don't think it's wrong to pray for a door to open to let you move back home. I think we're supposed to open our deepest desires to God, who knows them anyway. We're supposed to pray with all we feel, not worrying about whether it's "right. I mean, the imprecatory psalms teach us that, and praying to live closer to home is far more innocuous than praying for infant heads to be dashed against rocks! (And yes, I wrote that to show off the use of the word "imprecatory!") Perhaps opening to God your deepest desires will help you feel the closesness to God that it takes to open yourself to His will. I'm writing this advice for myself too.

    I believe that in the long run, God has something magnificent in store for you, but that's not to say it won't involve some sacrifice. That sacrifice might come in part in distance from your family (although maybe you'll find something close to home), or it may come in other ways. But the tremendous love you feel from your family -- the same love that makes it hard to say goodbye -- will bless and sustain you wherever you go. I know that sounds trite but it's true; you and I are both so blessed to have such loving people in our lives who remain in our hearts however far we travel.

  2. I have been close to home, and while I would like to travel and see different things eventually, I'm so happy to be close to family. I pray that you will have that door open soon! <3