“You want a home,” she said, and she nailed it.
I always wondered if this would happen to me.
I’m not the first person my friends would imagine settling down. I’ve moved a lot, travelled a lot, and made some unconventional life choices. I’m in my 30s and as an adult I’ve lived in halls, rented with friends, lived with family and experienced various versions of “living in community” with other families, including wandering over sleepy-eyed at 7am to have breakfast with our neighbours every day – sometimes in pajamas. We currently live with my parents. For one conventional year, Aaron and I rented a flat in London together, just the two of us, and relished the glory that afforded us – like dragging bedding into a candlelit living room for a classic sleepover.
In some faith circles, unconventionality is praised. I’ve heard a lot of talk of being “radical” and not “settling,” with settling having a range of nuanced meanings including “anything conventional,” “settling for second best” and “settling down because it’s so much more comfortable.” This sentiment, which I mainly heard among young 20-somethings, is that real lived-out faith should mean counter-cultural life choices in terms of money, time and the pursuit of comfort. You may know the (rather patronising) lines: “hang out with prostitutes,” “foster orphans” or “live on an estate” instead of “have 2 kids, buy a house in the nice part of town and drive around in your fancy car.”
It’s an interesting sentiment, and although it’s really simplistic and actually pretty offensive, there’s something to the heart behind it. What we were hankering after in those conversations is some authenticity, I think, some hope that everyone’s life doesn’t just turn out the same – that our desire to make a difference and to be different – however simplistic, however universal, wasn’t just a phase. I think we also just wanted to know that following Jesus actually makes a difference to everyday reality.
I actually believe that faith can be lived out in very diverse contexts. Maybe with 2 kids and your own house, maybe in friendship with trafficked women, maybe both (because they aren’t mutually exclusive). In fact living in “the nice part of town” can certainly be far more radical, hardcore and faith-driven in some scenarios than a superficially more counter-cultural choice. I also believe that to do anything to be “radical” or (let’s be honest) trendy, is probably, well, maybe a little more about our own identity than anyone else’s needs, and might not lead to very honest friendships or partnerships with people who are being boxed into “the marginalised,” “the poor” or “the needy…” categories for the sake of the next project. So yeah, there’s a lot to unpick there.
But leaving all that to the side, the thing I’ve been musing on lately is this: not settling down in your early twenties really isn’t that hard, or at least it wasn’t for me. It was natural, in fact. Life and faith have taken me where they have thus far, and that’s been an epic journey already, but let’s be honest – house buying, kids’ schooling, a spacious house, a garden, a comfortable bed, even job security, or (crucially) a place to call home for the longer-term – they really haven’t been part of the story yet. They just haven’t been much on my radar for the last decade. They’ve crossed the screen every now and then, like a shooting star crosses the night sky, but you don’t navigate by a shooting star. These “settle down” factors have never yet been large enough lights in my night sky to be tempted to divert course for. Comfort and sojourning weren’t mutually exclusive.
That hasn’t completely changed yet, but what is interesting is that I’m starting to feel the tug. Things are coming into focus – the actual sacrifices that would be involved if I were to feel called somewhere where my (as yet non-existent) kids couldn’t get decent schooling. What it might feel like to be un-salaried long-term. Reaching retirement without significant savings. These are thoughts that I have. But the real desire, the real change for me, is that I want to move somewhere long-term, as a base at least. This hasn’t been a huge factor for me until recently, but suddenly it is. I want to put down roots in an actual physical city, or town, or village, and entwine myself with the people there. If we move over the seas again, I want to be sent from a base, and I want that base for us to come back to. I want to invest in a stable, settled people environment, friends within walking distance. There is a pretty decent chance that the next place we move is for 2-3 years, and my desires are bucking against the suggestion. To move, and then move again? No! I want to be called to the place we’ll be based for the next ten years at least. I want to be called to a place I fall in love with, to a community that is in it for the long haul, a neighbourhood to call my own. I want, as my dear friend said, “a home.”
And maybe we will – maybe we will find a place to call home. I actually think there are a lot of awesome reasons to do so. I think that long-term relationships and community can only really be fostered in, well, the long-term. You can’t go very deep in two years. It takes enormous faith, character and pain to really commit to people for a really long time, through thick and thin and I believe that huge, mutually life-changing things can come out of that kind of commitment to community. I am so on board with that.
But if we’re called to be part of another community for a short time again, I won’t say no. I choose to settle or not settle because that is what is right, not because that is what I feel like and because settling would be so much more comfortable right now. It’s totally worth it whichever way it goes – with perspective. But just for the record, I really feel like a long-term home (and I didn’t know that I ever would).
Image from the personal collection of Rachel Hughes Shah