We all know life can get pretty messy. It can be messy having to deal with other people. Of course, that is what other people are saying about me too. Sometimes it seems easier to simply move on, move out, find a new place. I believe this idea of transience is rooted in our culture.
This comes from those times we are faced with outside pressures, outside forces. Perhaps it is that person who always gives me a headache. The boss who makes some new change or creates a new rule that I don’t agree with. Maybe I am no longer welcome here. For homeowners, maybe it is the neighbor who is always calling the HOA on you, or even that neighbor who never follows the HOA guidelines. Maybe it is that person who tends to reveal my own brokenness that I do not want to face. Either way, I tend to want to run and spin it in a positive way.
We do this in the Church, too. In a city where churches are as prevalent as Starbucks, it is easy to see our lives of worship in the same way we can fine tune our coffee drinks. “I will have church the way I like it, and if it doesn’t meet my needs, or it gets tough dealing with these people, I will move on down the street.” Even our language might tip our hand and reveal our hearts when we talk about church shopping. It implies I am the final say in the place that meets my needs like that one store that captures my style with its ironic use of rustic wood and antiqued furniture.
All of these notions or voices are crying to convince us to fly away, to take our ball and go home, to uproot and transplant somewhere else. Of course, it may not be a negative factor that pushes us away or moves us. It very well could be the opportunity to improve my place in the world, to improve my career or to even start my career. Perhaps there is good opportunity to move up to the next size, to a better place, a bigger place. Maybe my gifts and talents will truly be better utilized somewhere else. Those may be noble reasons, and I do not know your heart, but I know mine. My heart and my reasons tend to be far less noble.
Think about this idea of transience in this way: If you want to earn more money, the quickest route usually is not staying put at a place a long time. The quickest route seems to be moving up the career ladder through job-hunting to positions of upper authority. Otherwise you eventually find stagnation, a pay plateau based upon the average of all others in your same job title.
Or think about how we capitalize on the value of our house. Now it is worth double what I paid for it so I need to sell it. And that forces me to move somewhere else. To get to know new neighbors, maybe even a new area. Probably the worst example is the cable television industry. A longtime customer of a cable company doesn’t get a better price. In fact, your rates go up! If you want the best price you either have to call and threaten to leave or actually change providers. Staying put just doesn’t seem to pay.
Now, I don’t see the culture of transience changing anytime soon. At some level it would require businesses to turn upside down in figuring out pay scales and other things. It might mean we need to forget the notion of home and land value. Those details are not in my wheelhouse, albeit a fascinating conversation full of interesting, but probably terrible, ideas. What I wonder about is a personal revolution of stability. Of course, I call it revolution but it is nothing new. I was recently reading the Rule of St. Benedict. It is a collection of rules that are meant to govern a certain way of life. It was designed for monastic life. But I believe there are some wonderful gems to be found and mined within the work.
In the Rule of Life, and many other monasteries, monks take a vow of stability. It is a vow to remain in the community barring being sent out as a missionary. In reality, it is saying, place your roots here, for good or for bad. When I ponder this, idea I hear the echoes of the writings of Wendell Berry. We must have a sense of place, an understanding of place and you cannot have this without time spent there. Maybe we need to pledge ourselves to a place. Maybe we need to take our own vow of stability.
Now, I am not saying there are not times we may need to relocate. There may be times we need to change some things. There are real times where there is truly only work in another city, another place. But we must be honest if that is our go-to reaction because of our own issues. We must be honest with ourselves if we are simply stubborn people who lash back at authority or discipline. We might need to be honest if we are chasing financial stability over communal stability.
Perhaps one solution to our culture of transience might be some questions we wrestle with: Do we need to forgo our preferences for the sake of the community? Do we need to forgo that pay raise for the sake of our neighbors? Do we need to forgo that large equity we have built for the sake of the neighborhood?
There are many more questions worthy of asking, and the answers will be more nuanced. But perhaps a good starting point is setting a goal of staying put for 5 or more years. Perhaps a starting point is ponder what stability would look like in your family, in your neighborhood, in your church, in your workplace. Again, easier said than done. But a tree that is regularly relocated is not given the adequate time to grow fruit. And those roots are not given time to grow deep and able to intertwine into true community, true life together.