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My family and I have moved so many times that, to be perfectly honest, I can’t remember the number without counting out loud and on my fingers. “Let’s see -- do we count that month in France? What about the summer in the rural California church? Does that count, too?”
In the past eight years, we’ve lived in three states, four countries, and three continents. Sometimes when I allude to “our year in Germany” or “the three years in Scotland,” people seem envious and I can understand why. It sounds glamorous to others, but, really, all along I’ve been envying those who are settled, who have been setting down roots while we’ve been ripping them up, over and over again, to the point where I have woken up in the morning and literally not known where in the world I was.
“Heavenly Father, remember the traveler. Bring us safely home,” Fernando Ortega sang on a CD that my husband gave me when we were dating. We didn’t know then that it would become the theme song, more or less, for a decade of our lives together.
Moving is never easy, and I’m not primarily speaking of the practical and logistical side of things. “Moving, even a good move, is like grieving,” a friend recently told me, because in moving we lose what is familiar and step into uncertainty and newness.
“Relocation stress” is recognized by psychologists but little discussed in popular writings, although moving is considered one of life’s major stresses, up there with losing family members and becoming unemployed. As I scoured professional research on moving and stress, I was alarmed to find, among others, a study showing that:
“[F]requent relocations in childhood are related to poorer well-being in adulthood, especially among people who are more introverted or neurotic.”
I have two children, who’ve made all these moves with us, and I moved plenty when I was a child myself. I happen to be both somewhat introverted and I have my share of neuroses. Was I doomed by too much moving? Worse, have I doomed my children?
My friend Christine loves the writer Wendell Berry, who has written eloquently across diverse genres -- poetry, essays, and fiction -- on the beauty and value of rootedness, of being connected to a particular place and knowing it, and the people on it, well. Consequently, Christine says,
“I often found our moves to be a source of guilt, as we were doing anything but committing to a place and a people over time.” However, she went on, many stories in the Bible involve people moving from place to place -- Abraham, for example. It occurred to me that one could claim fairly that the entire story of the Bible is a story about moving -- of exile, of wandering, of waiting on God, of waiting for home.
Take the exile from the garden of Eden, or the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. In the former story, humankind experienced the severing of an intimate fellowship with God -- a separation that is not yet, even now fully repaired. In the latter story, that same God delivers his people from their captors only to be repaid with wilderness grumblings. In the time of Christ, the Jewish people were under Roman rule, and in this age, since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, Christ-followers are sojourners in this world, in it but not of it, longing and waiting for all its brokenness to be made whole once again. We all live in that uncomfortable transitional space between Eden and New Creation.
So while the Bible is replete with stories of “moving,” there’s never the suggestion that moving is what we’re meant for; that it is easy or normal and that those of us who find it painful -- who find, in one friend’s words, that moving always means leaving part of her heart’s real estate behind -- are wrong or need to just get on with it and, according to the sentiment of well-meaning Christian plaques: “bloom where you’re planted.” For Abraham to leave his land and people (in the days before FaceTime, no less) was deeply painful. Naomi, in the book of Ruth, suffers intensely and feels abandoned by God.
And Jesus, entering voluntarily into his exile from God at the cross, cried out his pain, his sense of alienation from God.
Where is the hope for those of us who find ourselves in the midst of moves, in between homes, or just plain unsettled for whatever reason? I think the hope is in Jesus’ promise to be with us. To be with us.
Several years ago my children learned a song at VBS that’s become a family favorite:
The Lord your God will be with you
Wherever you go, wherever you go
The Lord your God will be with you
So you can be strong and brave.
Jesus left, but not without leaving his Spirit, and the work Jesus did he entrusted to his followers, whom the Spirit fills (as the Spirit now fills us) and strengthens to carry on that work in the world.
In her book Holy is the Day, my friend Carolyn Weber, who knows a thing or ten about moving, just as I do, tells the somewhat embarrassing true story of being violently ill not long after she moved far from home. With her young children at home and no one nearby to call, she had to phone a woman she barely knew -- a woman she’d only recently met at church -- to come take her to the hospital and see to her children.
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“Testing these waters of fellowship,” Carolyn writes, “I am beginning to learn, o me of little faith, that when you indeed have a friend in Jesus, there are no strangers.”
This does not mean that the road to a new home -- or even, to a new stage of life, whether that be empty nesting, retirement, a change in career, or the end of a marriage through death or divorce -- is easy. It does not mean that Jesus, or one of Jesus’s followers, waves a magic wand to make it all better. Jesus is, after all, the man of sorrows who is well-acquainted with grief. He is the one who had no place to lay his head. So when we make space to welcome others, and learn, humbly, to venture into the new places God calls us, we move just a bit closer to God’s kingdom.
Just a bit closer to home.
Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat With Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food. Her writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, Books & Culture, RELEVANT, and others. She also regularly contributes to Her.meneutics. Rachel lives in Malawi, Africa with her husband Tim and two little boys. You can read more from her at her blog, or follow her @rachel_m_stone.