This story was originally published in September 2008.
It happens every day. Something will remind Leslie of New York. And she’ll begin to talk about New York City and tear up. She’s lived in St. Louis for months, but New York is still home. She calls someone there every night. She spent last weekend there. She was going crazy unless she could go back home. Her kids have changed since coming to St. Louis. She’s convinced that St. Louis is just not the kind of place to raise kids. Oh, for New York City! Oh, for home!
I know the feeling. Our move from Atlanta 12 years ago was not easy. Our adjustment was difficult and slow. Wrenched out of what was familiar, understood, appreciated, and congenial, we were suddenly plunged into strange people, accents, smells, terrain, customs, and weather. As Eugene Peterson says in Run With the Horses, the new place may even “boast a higher standard of living. It may be more pleasant in its weather. That doesn’t matter. It isn’t home.”
Not only have you probably moved, you will likely move again. And the odds are that once there, unlike my father’s generation—he stayed at one ministry job for 40 years—you will someday move again and maybe again. And the dear people with whom you live will also be movers. For better or worse, we’re are a mobile culture.
Does God speak to the phenomenon of moving? Why does moving hurt so? Is there ultimate hope in the pain of moving? And can it be redeemed?
Let’s explore the possibilities.
Why does moving hurt?
Discombobulation, cutting of roots, loss of relationships. You can’t get around it. Moving hurts … really … like hell.
In fact, with a bit of tongue in cheek, I often say that if I were ever to rewrite the Screwtape Letters, I would have everyone in hell always having to move. And as the last picture was be hung in place, the senior demon would come with instructions that it was time to move again.
So why does moving hurt so? To me it’s increasingly clear. Genesis 3 follows the story of the dignity of the human race with the poignant unfolding of its misery through our rebellion against God. Listen to the familiar words of Genesis 3:22-24 and see if you don’t see a U-Haul in Eden’s primeval mists.
“And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
God’s words of curse come earlier in Genesis 3, to the serpent, to the woman, to Adam. But as the tragic effects of the fall unfold in Adam and Eve’s life, the first thing that happens to them externally is essentially … a move. They are banished from the Garden (v. 23), driven out (v. 24). No wonder it hurts; mankind was not created to move. Moving flows from the Fall.
In In The Beginning, French commentator Henry Blocher writes, “The expulsion from the Paradise prepared by the Lord hurls mankind into painful toil, but at the same time also makes him an outcast. He is homeless on this earth, earthling though he is. Hence, the endless wandering … [that] finds expression in the myth of the wandering Jew, the man who is homesick for his country without having a country.”
Created to find their ultimate rest in God and great delight and nurture from human relationships and God’s creation, Adam and Eve find all of that damaged deeply. The Fall brought incredible separation, and a loss of identity and place—all symbolized by the forced exile from the garden. The first human move.
Mankind generally and God’s people specifically have been moving ever since. Moses living in Midian named his son “Gershom, saying, I have become an alien in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22). The pain of moving is part of the pilgrimage of the Fall. So it should not surprise us when a move brings havoc. Then, we can approach moving with a bit more steady realism. Yes, it will be painful. But perhaps the meaninglessness of that pain will be eased by understanding how moving got here in the first place.
Hope in the pain of moving?
Intuitively, we long to be at rest, not to move. That’s how we were made. And, ah, yes! The hope began early. Remember the seminal gospel in Genesis 3:15 with the promise of Satan’s head crushed by the seed of the women. Further, as Adam and Eve were exiled and packed up into that first U-Haul, the tree of life was not cut down. They were simply kept from it. The tree is not destroyed; there just may be hope. And, of course, the tree appears early in Revelation, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (2:7). Toward the end of the book, we discover that the tree of life is in the middle of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, where finally, we are at rest to move again no more.
On the cross, the innocent Son of God suffered cosmic exile from His Father who cast Him away from His presence because of our selfishness (a move?), so that you and I could come home forever.
In Scripture, we pilgrims, though painfully on the move, have a wonderful destination. The heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for another country of their own … . They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13f).
In the middle of packing his own U-Haul, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled … . In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you …” (John 14:1f).
Ultimate redemption brings moving to glorious conclusion in heaven as our true home. In that city “the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).
In the middle of pilgrimage pain, God’s people have always found strength remembering ultimately where home really is. And they have expressed it in song, as in this excerpt from Alan Brumley.
“This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through,
My treasure is laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me, from heaven’s golden shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Oh Lord, you know, I have no friend like you.
If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s golden shore
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
Part of the pain of moving can be lessened as we grow in our appreciation of where we’re headed. Despite the pain of the U-Haul, we’re returning to the tree of life in the paradise of God, with the new heavens and earth.
Redeeming moving now?
From its earliest centuries, orthodox Christianity has fought what Tom Oden calls “world-haters and world-despairers” (The Living God, Systematic Theology, Vol.1). I see too many Christians in ministry who are just that: world-haters and world-despairers. So how do we redeem moving in the here and now?
Roger and Madelle (not their real names) were missionaries. When I was in their home, it took five minutes to see that they hated where they lived. They talked down the neighbors, the schools, the culture, the language, the people. They made negative comparisons to where they were before. And they were supposed to reach those people! They were world-haters.
On the other hand, Gary and Carol (not their real names) live in a small town in Kansas. They hate Kansas. But they’ve chosen to become a part of that community. They’ve chosen to love Kansas. And as laymen they are making a difference. People are in their home all the time. They’d prefer to be in a PCA church, but there’s not one there, so they jumped in and are active in another. They’ve got problems with it, but no one there hears any words of discontent. They are Kansas affirmers. Moving for Gary and Carol is being redeemed.
When we move, how do we not only avoid discontent but in fact, become at home? So that we are world-affirmers, not world-haters, where we are? How do we come to embrace where we are? To value the people we now live among?
The secret is our grasping the doctrine of the Incarnation. Ultimately, your moving here or to your next location is redeemed the same way the Fall is redeemed—through the Incarnation. In the ultimate cross-cultural move, God the Son chose to become absolutely one with those He came to reach.
Over forty years ago, in The Offering of Man, Harry Blamires wrote insightfully about the Incarnation. “The Incarnation turned out to be not a means of getting in touch with us … . It was not a matter of telling man, but of being man. [Christ] did not come primarily to correct history, but to inhabit history … . The Incarnation was not an experiment in divine slumming; God did not come as some potentate to address his inferiors; He did not come … with the right contacts and the right advice; He did not come to patronize us … . Our Lord came to be, and to be in the form of a man—to be man, and to endure whatever might have to be endured by Eternal God when being man.”
The Incarnation—A Model for Moving
It is staggering that Jesus, in His move to a rebel and unfriendly planet, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
The Incarnation becomes the model for moving. “Lord, this is the place you’re bringing me. I don’t feel at home here. But that’s how you felt when you came to your own but your own did not receive you. Yet you chose lovingly to become one with us, to take our likeness and our sorrows. Fill me with appreciation for your move to my town, this earth, your identification with me. And help me identify with this place.”
The best biblical illustration of incarnational moving may be Jeremiah 29, where Jeremiah writes the exiles who are in Babylon. He writes to Jews whose identity was wrapped up in their own land, who had been told by false prophets they would soon be going “home,” who were aliens in a land where everything was different: accent, food, topography, worship, schools, customs. And, perhaps most significantly, aliens in the very country that had blasted their home to smithereens.
Listen: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity (the shalom) of the city to which I’ve carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper … I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:4-11).
Choose to make yourself at home, God said. Enter into the life of the community. Become a settled positive member of the very foreign culture that was responsible for your uprooting. Become productive, a giver not just a taker. Enter into deep relationships. Seek the prosperity, the shalom of that city. Throw yourself into the place you’ve found yourself. God says to them, it is in incarnational living in Babylon that you will find your own success.
Being sent incarnationally, like Jesus, we’re called to so get into—not under—others’ skin in our new community that we sympathize with their weaknesses, indeed are right there with them, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Discovering and understanding their fears, desires, needs, hobbies, pain, dreams, and emotional baggage, looking for places to show affirmation and the love of Jesus.
Will it take away the pain of moving? I think it won’t. But it will redeem it. That is what Christ did for us.
Identifying with a People and Place
The Incarnation provides the model for seeing moving redeemed as we choose to identify with the place and people we move to.
But the question is, how can we do that? It goes so against the grain! How can we grow in the freedom to choose to be a part of a place before we feel we belong there? How does that freedom come?
Biblically that freedom comes as we grasp and appropriate the Bible’s teaching that God is the ultimate source of meeting those very needs — yours and your spouse’s — that moving so often accentuates.
These words speak to this issue: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Psalm 90:1) “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I will trust … .’ If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge — then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalm 91:1,2,9,10).
Some of you may not feel at home where you are. But as you bask in the truth of the move that Jesus made for you, don’t wait to feel at home. Instead, choose to be at home because you realize you are home in Christ’s arms. Fix up your apartment as if it is home. As you “make the Most High your dwelling,” you’ll work hard at deepening relationships, you will ask God what it means to be a part of your community, and you’ll pray for the shalom of your city.
Then, when you move again, you’ll do it again. And God will not only redeem your move, He will continue His work to prosper and redeem your city.
Jim Hatch is the director of Church Planter Development for Mission to North America.
Jeremiah’s Lessons on Moving:
1. Choose to make yourself at home. God said: Enter into the life of the community.
2. Become a positive member of the foreign culture that was responsible for your uprooting.
3. Become productive—a giver not just a taker.
4. Enter into deep relationships
5. Seek the prosperity, the shalom of that city.