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The Spiritual Discipline of Staying Put: Planting Roots in a Placeless Culture

The Spiritual Discipline of Staying Put: Planting Roots in a Placeless Culture

Instead of "moving up in the world," what if God wants us to remain in one place?

I had a neighbor growing up, Alan, who worked for the power company. He was a young guy then and didn't mind danger or odd hours, so the company put him on call for emergency repair jobs. Early one morning, Alan was called out to fix a stoplight at a busy intersection. He parked his ladder truck in the middle of the intersection, put out his caution cones, and climbed to fix the light, some 20 feet in the air. While he was working, a drunk driver raced through the intersection and clipped the back of Alan's truck. Alan flew off the top of his ladder, cut a back flip in the air, and somehow landed on his feet in the intersection. Miraculously, he wasn't hurt. But Alan had a hard time trusting ladders after that. Wanting to keep his feet on the ground, Alan found another job.

Most of us don't have an experience as jolting as Alan's, but his story may serve as a parable for our spiritual lives in a mobile culture. Even if we don't feel it now, we can remember a time when we felt young, confident, and ready to take on the world. We set out to excel and make a difference—to end poverty or fix a broken school system; to be the first college graduate in our family or the first black doctor in our town. If we were at all religious, we probably had some sense that these dreams were from God. We trusted the Lord for strength to go on when the journey seemed impossible. We were spurred on by the testimonies of those who had "made it," getting to the top of the ladder and achieving what they dreamed for so long.

Like Alan, though, we have felt the ground beneath the ladder shift from time to time. Maybe we saw it coming—a move to a new school, an internship in a new city, a long-hoped-for marriage to someone half a world away. Or maybe, like Alan, it blindsided us—a company transfer, a slouch in the economy, a sudden divorce. Whether as a result of carefully laid plans or catastrophic interruptions, few of us seem able to stay in one place anymore. Maybe we have survived the moves. (In some cases, our survival seems almost as miraculous as Alan's.) We're still alive, but our spirits are hungry. We long for connection with God and other people. We're desperate for community. We're hungry for a way to live that feels authentic and true.


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Displaying 1–5 of 5 comments

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

February 17, 2012  8:53am

Kevin: while I certainly appreciate your desire to maintain a sense of personal responsibility (and, with it, dignity), I cannot ignore the social factors that press hard on my neighbors. They are not, on average, any more selfish or self-centered than the average sinner. But they were born into a social position that makes good choices extremely difficult. Staying in this place has helped me to see clearly what the Christian doctrine of original sin means--that we are both subject to sin we didn't choose AND each responsible children of God. When we say in Jesus' name, "Your sins are forgiven," it means both that grace covers the worst things you've done AND that you're 'somebody,' even if the world treats you like a nobody.


February 13, 2012  3:21pm

So selling crack is a logical response to the creation of a nearby freeway, and gang violence is a result of educated people moving out of a small town? I think broken families, drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity, a cultural emphasis on showy materialism, a cultural lack of emphasis on delayed gratification, a cultural scorn for books and education are far more responsible for the social ills of drug sales and gang violence.

Doc LeMaster

February 12, 2012  11:03pm

A while ago my wife and I visited Jonathan and the community in Walltown and were struck by their commitment to "living for Jesus in place" That was one step along my own journey to leaving my job as a tenured faculty member at a midwest University, and our house in the country, and moving to a community like Jonathan's in Kansas City, KS. As God calls and we respond, we may have to leave a place where we are TOO comfortable before we can get rooted in the place He intends to plant us. For some of us, our current "rootedness" may be what God calls us to leave as He calls to the "abandoned places of the Empire". Once there, we find God has prepare a place for us, where our security is in Him, not in "stuff". "People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own....they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefor God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (NIV Heb 11: 14,16).

Jeffery Johnson

February 12, 2012  3:44pm

What comes to mind in correlation to God´s Word with your article is we are called to be content with food, clothes, and shelter, and to keep away from supposing that gain is somehow godliness. Moreover God´s Word tells us all to abide in the same position that we are called to, as the Lord´s servant in our office of labor wherewith we labor. Our Lord Himself tells us exactly that He is not the one at the table being served, but the one serving, which example we are called to follow. But to abide in these things we would have to first deny our own will, which by the way is also required of any that would follow the Lord.


February 09, 2012  12:45pm

Yes, yes; a worthy challenge to jump off the upwardly frantic mobile lifestyle. Seeking God's direction is the only true source of peace. Filtering our ambitions through the cross always works out the best for us in the long run. Many years ago, I had to eat humble pie and submit to his will. I have no regrets. What blessings I would have missed.


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