What’s Wrong With Settling?
Yesterday, I was talking with one of my sons about friends who are planning to enter into the mission field soon. I was sharing my excitement for their decision when my son interrupted me. “Will we be moving to another country, too?”
His voice reflected anxiety, not excitement, worry clouding his face. “I don’t know,” I told him. “I don’t know if that will be God’s call for us. But whether he is calling us to the mission field or not, he is still calling for us to be missionaries wherever we are.”
“So, we don’t have to move anytime soon?” he pressed. “That would be really hard.”
I could completely relate to his feelings. I am a homebody, someone who has rarely traveled outside this country (unless you count Canada), and after moving six times during the first decade of our marriage, when we arrived in our current home the last thing I ever wanted to do was to move again. Anywhere.
As the years have gone by, I’ve realized the challenging truth that the longer we stay in one place, the harder it is to have any desire to leave. And yet the God I see in Scripture, the God who calls us to go make disciples of all nations, is not one who seems to reward inertia. Is missional living incompatible with settling down?
I told my son that we have to be open to whatever path God sets before us, whether that means staying where we are or going somewhere completely different. One day, God may very well be calling us to a completely different city or country as missionaries, and as Christians we want to remain open to whatever God’s mission might be for us.
On the other hand, as God expresses in Jeremiah 29 when he tells the Israelites to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you to exile,” there can also be purpose in staying in one place and seeking to bring God’s blessings to those around us.
The challenge when we settle is that we tend to direct our energies inwardly, toward the building of our own homes and families, and in the process we forget that God desires for us to channel our energies outwardly, to “go” and find ways to have a positive impact in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces and communities, to find ways to make disciples of all nations while living in just one.
As in so many areas of the Christian life, there is a paradox here, a healthy tension to balance. We have to invest in people and places where we are, while simultaneously being open to the possibility that at any time, God could be calling us to go elsewhere. When I think of the stories from Scripture of so many people who were called to “go”, there was often very little advance notice. Abraham, Jonah, Ananias, just to a name a few, were all called to pick up and leave their current lives for a future one without any guarantees for safety and security.
Even the Israelites were not meant to stay in Babylon forever. Wherever you find yourself rooted today, may you both be thankful for where you are and also open to being sent somewhere unknown and unexpected, whether it is the next block, the next town, or even the next country over.
And as we seek the welfare of the cities we inhabit, and of the people God has called us to invest in, we must still hold loosely to the homes and lives we build, remembering that the essence of being mission- and Spirit-led people means that this world is meant to just be a temporary residence, that ultimately there is only one Home into which we will permanently settle.