“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, suggests that counter-cultural life choices in terms of money, time and the pursuit of comfort are somehow superior to more conventional ones. “Have 2 kids, buy a house in the nice part of town and drive around in your fancy car” is sometimes symbolised as the epitome of “settling.”
It’s an interesting sentiment, and although it’s really simplistic and actually pretty offensive (especially when you consider what is symbolised as ‘not settling’) there’s something to the heart behind it. I had a lot of conversations with friends about this in my early twenties and 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 were a little nervous that we would stop caring about injustice, that we would end up prioritising our own personal comfort above all else, that our desires to work for justice were more about being young than being “good.” I think we also just wanted to know that this whole Jesus faith would actually make a meaningful and lasting difference to everyday reality.
Of course, faith can be lived out in very diverse contexts. Maybe with 2 kids and your own house, maybe as an activist, maybe both (because they aren’t mutually exclusive). In fact living in “the nice part of town” can certainly be far more selfless or 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 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 about how this kind of thinking can actually perpetuate injustice, objectify and dehumanise people and end up serving privileged people more than anyone else.
Even leaving all that to the side for a moment, 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. That’s been an epic journey already, but let’s be honest – mortgages, kids’ schooling, a spacious house, a garden, even job security, or (crucially) a place to call home for the longer-term – they really haven’t been part of my 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 for me to be tempted to divert course. Comfort and sojourning weren’t mutually exclusive. Sojourning was comfortable, easy (or easy enough), a default…
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 live 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 sometimes. 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 have a base for us to come back to. I want to invest in a stable, settled place, 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 find 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, to have 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, even though it’s never really been my default. I think that long-term relationships and community can only really be fostered in, well, the long-term. It takes character and involves pain to really commit to people 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.
If we end up believing it’s right to be part of another community for a short time again, I won’t say no. There’s more to a decision that just what I feel like right now. But for the record, I really feel like a long-term home (and I didn’t know that I ever would).
Image from my personal collection.