I happened to mention that, when I travel, it always reinforces to me that Canada is the best place in the world . . . and Nettie Lake is the best place in Canada. Travelling stretches me in very necessary and useful ways, but how I love home! There is something about coming home that is as wonderful as, or better than, the excitement of going away. However, the person I was talking to ventured that he thinks he could be anywhere in the world and feel at home. Home isn’t necessarily tied to a location or familiarity. He wondered if his background, which included elements of homelessness, prevented him from attaching deeply to any one spot, and thus allowed him make any place in the world home. As I considered these perspectives, I realized that despite seeming to be completely opposite, both could quite possibly be right and fit within the variety God has arranged to fulfil His purposes in this world. Alternatively, each could be a roadblock to God’s will being achieved in our lives. Each has pros and cons. Each has the ability to be an asset or a snare to service. Both of our distinct lots in life (and they are very different) could be God-given desires to accomplish His desired purpose in us on this earth.
Many questions cropped up after this exchange. How does my understanding, experience, and sense of home impact who I am and who I become? Does the type of home I know affect how I interact with the world? Does my home stifle my usefulness, turning into a trap of sorts, that holds me still with deep roots that won’t let me go? Or does it steady me and give me a secure base to invest in a long-term deep way with the people and community around me? Does it tie me or free me? Would I be willing to relinquish it (in the location sense of it) to increase my sphere of service? Could the freedom that comes from being transient also prevent me from shouldering responsibility, and loose the moorings I need to develop deep and lasting relationships where I am able to care for people in an ongoing way? Is it easier to live with shallower roots, less long-term responsibility, and the ability to minister on a broad spectrum? Or is it easier to settle in for the long haul and see the problems that arise through to their conclusion? Does ease even matter? Do I even get to choose? Is there room for both of these options, the Lord deciding which one is my lot? Permanent and deep-rooted for me, flexible and wide-ranging for him?
There are many examples in scripture of both options that help us to see the benefits of each. The Lord Jesus warned a man eager to join Him that they weren’t staying in the best inns as they travelled from place to place ministering to the lost sheep of Israel. In fact, despite growing up in a specific and settled location, Jesus’ ministry was very transient, moving from location to location, and He is described as hardly having a place to lay His head (see Matthew 8:18-20). We notice, however, just how many times He enjoyed refreshment at the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, complete with a bustling and anxious hostess. Their home was a stable and reliable option that afforded love and care to the weary travellers on many occasions. Food, lodging, welcome and warmth – key ingredients in a hospitable home – were all offered and enjoyed in Bethany. Indeed, the community in Bethany shows us the impact just such a home can have, as the concern for Lazarus, and the testimony resulting from his resurrection, affected their many friends and neighbours in that specific location. The home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus set the stage and provided a wonderful opportunity for the Lord to reach the community in Bethany (see Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-12:11).
And then there’s Paul. Missionary extraordinaire. A never-ending itinerary and the energy to match it. It’s of interest though, that in his travels and his letters, Paul never held back emotionally because of the transient nature of his interactions with the Christians he loved. Even though he knew only too well the bitterness of partings (e.g., Acts 20:36-38), and the deep yearning for reunion (e.g., Romans 1:8-12), he invested himself heavily in the welfare of those he found himself with, and those he had left behind. Paul was willing to risk committing himself even though loss was definitely in the forecast. And he remained tethered to these people he was physically absent from through prayer, writing, and plans to return. This is a very difficult undertaking for those called to live the transient life. When we sense that whatever we attach ourselves to will end in loss, we often pull back, invest less, and opt for protecting our hearts. But this can cripple us and those we interact with. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Paul opened his heart and embraced these Christians fully. Paul’s final residence might have been his most permanent dwelling due to house arrest. It’s interesting to see how he used this more permanent base. He opened up the door and welcomed guests in order to edify and put heart into them (see Acts 28:16-31). Paul certainly lived out what he wrote. He was content in both situations, using them with intention for the building up of the church and the furthering of the gospel.
Here is a challenge to our hearts. Perhaps we are more inclined to being a homebird with a particular location and a tendency to long-term investment. Or perhaps we are enamoured by the opportunities throughout the world where our influence can span countries and continents for the furtherance of the Lord’s work. Maybe we prefer the security of a familiar location with familiar people and routines. Or maybe we gravitate to adventure and the unknown, savouring all that’s new and interesting, and enjoying the freedom of not being tied down. Both of these orientations are useful in the hands of the Master and we ought to be willing to surrender them to Him for His use. However, what if He asked us to give up our comfort zone to increase our usefulness? What if, similar to Paul, we were asked to try both? Could we be content to just follow Him? Would He be enough? If I had Him and no fixed address, could I be satisfied and useful? If I had Him and an unchanging location or ministry, could I accept that and be content to use it for His glory?