On the first page of the introduction Jonathan makes a striking claim:
“I am convinced that the most important thing most of us can do to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.”
As we know all too well, “as participants in a mobile culture, our default is to move” (5). This is especially true in America where we are “grasping for something to anchor our lives in a sea of constant change…like children stumbling off a merry-go-round” (10). I’ll admit the picture of a merry-go-round is a good description of what some of my own years of life have felt like. But Jonathan believes there is a better way. Instead of constant movement, he wants us to see stability as a gift (14) and as a divine invitation from God (21). Jonathan believes we should not only yearn for stability. We should practice it so that “God’s house becomes our home” (17). If we don’t, then we remain restlessness. This is problematic because our restlessness causes us to not only always search for new community, but we also aren’t ever able to settle down wherever we end up.
The author knows we will be skeptical. We’ll ask,
“What difference does it make for me to try to stay somewhere and find community? Commit yourself to a place and you will watch it change before your eyes. Promise yourself to a church or a neighborhood and its people will move on. Stability will begin to sound like wishful thinking, especially when we feel burned by people who decide to move on.” (22)
I admit. I’ve felt this way at times, and I’ve only just recently committed to stability in a particular place (Central Massachusetts), and a specific church (Holden Chapel). Sometimes the commitment to yearning; searching for; loving, and creating stability can feel overwhelming. And sometimes, I wonder if it is worth it. Sometimes I become skeptical. And my first instinct is to run. leave. get out. After all, that’s what SO MANY PEOPLE AROUND ME DO. But maybe, just maybe, what I am running from is not all those other broken people or that broken community or that “insufficient church.” Perhaps what I am actually running from, is myself.
“Someone asked Abba Antony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ After encouraging the pilgrim to keep God before his eyes and pattern his life after the Scriptures, Antony added, ‘In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.’ Another of the desert fathers advised similarly, ‘If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you‘” (35).
I needed to read this book. As a typical (idealistic) millennial, I am eager to follow Jesus anywhere, “so long as I don’t have to stay put” (39). But perhaps I need to reorient my appointment book. After all, “The same power that healed you can sustain a life of faithfulness right where you are” (39). I need to learn to “unlearn the habits of a culture that tells us the answer to our problems is always somewhere else” (40). I needed to hear the stories of real people practicing real stability:
Don lived for years in the Chicago area…He told me, ‘I’ve given up my spiritual journey.’ I could tell from his smile that he had a point to make, so I asked what he meant. ‘Well, you know, we Christians talk a lot about our spiritual journeys. We get excited about experiences and go places looking for the next spiritual high. We say God called us here, then God calls us there. But it’s all so individualistic. It’s all so focused on little ‘lessons’ or ‘insights’ that we’re supposed to take with us to the next place.
Don paused and looked around…I think I’m learning…that God can change us if we’ll settle down in one place. So I’ve given up my spiritual journey. I’m going to just stay with God here and see how I can grow” (47).
I think this lesson is one of the most difficult ones for my generation to learn. But we must. I must. After all,
“Without roots of love, we easily become slaves to our own desires, using the place where we happen to be as a staging ground for our ambitions and manipulating the people around us so they might serve our objectives” (83).
The practice of stability, then is an exercise in putting down roots. God help us. God, help me!
The house was built in ’98,
prior to my arrival.
And a big maple tree at the corner of the porch
was run over and buried lots of times by wagons
moving in materials to build the house.
And the other maples what Daddy had planted,
they had no trouble at all.
But they all died and this one lived that had such rough treatment.
And there’s a saying
“Rough weather makes good timber.”
It may be
that the trouble with folks today
is that they’re raised like hothouse flowers,
and they don’t have much to go on
at the end.
(From page 106)