Today’s twentsomethings are a generation of people who are “shuffling zip codes for career choices, relationships, college degrees, and ministry opportunities,” or so says one article published by “Relevant” magazine this week. Seemingly, the author, Stephanie Smith, suggests that this isn’t a healthy way to live and that it would do our generation well to embrace “living locally.” She says:
“It takes time to get established in any local community, and the grass may often seem greener in neighborhoods not our own. But when we commit to living locally, good things begin to take root—personal contentment, new friendships, church families, cultural renewal and an organic, homegrown kind of grace.”
After months of my own kind of wrestling with the decision to stay in the same town I grew up in or leave for “greener” opportunities with jobs out of state, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
For me, growing up a military kid instilled in me a kind of “tumbleweed” approach to life: Stay until the wind of the next life change blows me elsewhere. It’s why I even started looking at jobs in other states in the first place – because I graduated and the wind of new life change was blowing strong. But, the harder the wind blew, the less I wanted to leave. For the first time in my life, in my late 20s, I decided that I wasn’t going to let the wind decide my future anymore. For the first time in my adult life, I prayerfully made a choice. And my choice was to stay, and I stayed because:
- Quite frankly, making money isn’t a good enough reason to go.
- At some point in the last month, watching Disney movies on Wednesdays with my two best girlfriends became something I look forward to. We can just sit and be together. We can laugh or cry or be silent, and there’s no judgment. There is edification and support and love. And this deep bond of Christian sisterhood comes because we’re in the daily grind with each other, making dinners and cleaning dirty dishes and walking each other’s dogs and taking care of each other in the messy places – and right now that means spending a weekday watching Mulan save China, and Aladdin become a prince, and Pocahontas paint with the colors of the wind…whatever that means.
- I can pop over to my best friend’s house to sit with her month-old baby boy so that she can take a shower. Because doing that is helpful to her. And because just sitting with my nephew, adopted aunt that I am, slows me down. And as someone who lives her life in perpetual forward motion, that slowing is necessary and connecting me to Jesus. It’s like a kind of Sabbath that happens on a moment’s notice.
- People here know my family and know that there are some days that I just need to get out of my house, and without judgment they offer me their quiet loft space so I can write and read, and then they feed me dinner and watch the Bachelor with me and remind me that “family” extends beyond the bond of genetics. These people are teaching me that “family” is really about taking good care of each other and asking one another for help. And that’s a lesson I need to keep learning.
- The baristas at Starbucks now know that if I get a vanilla latte that I’m going to sit at the table a lot longer than if I get any kind of iced drink, and they always want to know what I’m writing. And talking to them about what I’m writing opens the conversation to be about the things of God in a way that’s genuine and invites relationship. And it takes time and consistency to build those kind of dynamics with my neighbors, and I need more time.
- I can drive an hour north or an hour south and end up on the doorsteps of women whose weddings I stood in, and whose friendship and counsel helps me stay focused on what’s right and godly, and whose kids love when I show up, and whose husbands advocate for my relationships with their wives.
- “My girls” – the middle schoolers and high schoolers I teach on Sunday mornings and who I take out for coffee and who call me to meet them Chinese food and movies – would be damaged if I left right now. Because somewhere over the last four years our schedules and lives have become entangled, and as much as I care about their grades and college decisions, they care about my job search and my book; and as much as I am protective of them while they’re dating, they’re protective of me; and as much as I pray for them, they pray for me. And if I left them right now, I’d be damaged too.
- I think that staying is somehow more sanctifying for me than if I were to leave. And I think that’s maybe the most important reason of all.
As I was weighing this decision, before I ultimately decided to stay, my mind kept going back to the story of the man who Jesus healed from demon possession by sending the demons into a herd of pigs. After he had been healed, the man wanted to follow Jesus to wherever He was going next. But, in Luke 8:39 Jesus says to the man, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” The ideas of going home and of staying home are important to Jesus. His message of salvation and grace and love needs to be heard at home.
I’m someone who moved nine times by the age of 12 and who left the only town she knew as “home” to go to a college a day’s drive away and who – by the grace of God – moved back “home” to get her graduate degree, so I’m pretty accustom to leaving towns and the people in them. I’m not so good at staying put. But, I’m making choices and combating what’s become an unhealthy pattern in my life and I’m staying for the lessons that staying is teaching me, for the deep relationships that I’m forming, and for the ways that I’m drawing closer to Jesus and learning to operate a little more like Him in the world. I’m staying because some people are told, like the man in Luke 8, to go home.