If you are like me, you are probably always looking for the next great adventure around the corner. How can I get a better job? What can be changed in my routines to give me more peace? How could I live in a better neighborhood five years from now? Such is often the fodder of our daily conversations. We like to muse about dreams of what our lives could become.
But could our “always looking ahead” ways be counter to the message of the gospel?
Recently, I finished a book written by a former classmate of mine at Duke Divinity, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, called The Wisdom of Stability.
Jonathan makes a strong case in this text for the spiritual discipline of investing your life in a particular place. He calls to question the practices of our mobile and always on-the-go culture, suggesting that the “Let’s move in 2 years if we don’t really like it here” might not be the best approach to Christian discipleship. Jonathan points out that this is why many of our communities, churches and relationships suffer– lack of commitment to stay and truly invest in people around us.
I was challenged at many points to re-consider many of the ways that such cultural practices like, “No need to get to know these neighbors, we are moving in 2 years” or “My house is my sanctuary from the outside world” or even “We could always move if . . . ” have infiltrated my own life. Jonathan’s words invited me to reconsider my level of investment in the neighborhoods where I live and serve. His words were a great challenge.
But, at the same time I felt that much of what Jonathan advocates for is nearly impossible to live out unless you live in a monastery (like many of the examples came from) or in an intentional Christian community (like Jonathan and his family do). Even the most community centered churches struggle to inspiring the type of investment in its members, which would make them say, “I am here for good.” We get mad. We find a community more in line with our values. We like the music somewhere else. And, the cultural pull toward mobility is just too strong in our work life. And with job transfers the norm in our consumer driven culture, how is it that any of us could call our lives “stable?”
But, then, as I kept reading, I remembered the small South Georgia town where my husband family is from. It’s the place where my in-laws have lived for over 40 years and where nearly all of my extended family lives on the same street. They don’t plan to move anytime soon (if ever!). I’m sure I’ll be buried there one day because my plot has already been purchased on this land. . . .
Though some might call their life together removed or not as in touch with the larger world, I have come to believe their communal existence as a family and with their surrounding neighbors is really what the wisdom of stability is all about.
Everyone is seen. Everyone is important. Everyone can contribute something.
For example, my mother in-law has an open door policy and during any given hour you just don’t know who is going to walk in when you visit. On any given afternoon you could find in her house, a neighbor visiting to share the latest news, the preacher coming to pray with my mother-in-law after a doctor’s visit, a cousin coming from the next town up for an afternoon conversation. No one goes hungry in the surrounding area for there’s always an extra plate on the stove. Such an environment not because it is simply the culture of the South, but because my family has intentionally welcomed it.
To experience this kind of community first hand, for me, as a daughter-in-law is chaotic and wonderful. For, it’s a life that does not tire of doing and seeing the same things every morning. It’s a life that values the land, hard work and being together without any fancy occasion. The fruits of love, patience, joy and faithfulness emerge naturally. Many are blessed.
I’m thankful for the witness of Jonathan and the intentional Christian community called the Rutba House where he lives in Durham, but I’m also even more thankful after reading his book for my own family’s witness of stability in another town. I’ve grateful for Jonathan helping me see them afresh. And, most of all, I’m grateful for the wisdom of stability– if I just stay put along enough to experience it, God will show up in my neighbors.