If you’ve recently moved (or tried to) you’ll know there is a dearth of available properties pushing prices to an all-time high. Many potential buyers, including first-time buyers, have been shut out of the market and stranded in places they would rather not be and, in some cases, places they no longer recognize.
It has been nine years now since my husband and I bought our first home. After a decade of moving from place to place, we returned to his native Virginia to minister in a rural community. We were drawn to both providence and desire, and the house that we bought came to represent these things to us.
We quickly made it our own, replacing the orange carpet in the basement and updating the wood-grain paneling. We have planted fruit trees and landscaped gardens. Then fences and hedges. We renovated the bathrooms and replaced the flooring again when the drains failed and the basement was flooded, all while driving our roots deeper and deeper into the surrounding community.
Then the earthquakes hit.
Not literally earthquakes, but interpersonal and professional earthquakes. After eight years, we left the ministry that had brought us here. Our children left the primary school which is close to our home, and we found ourselves displaced while we lived at the same address.
Soon our private tremors were surrounded by global tremors. COVID-19 has struck, and we, along with our neighbors, have found ourselves locked in our homes. Schools and churches have closed and so has the library, our points of shared community have been lost. Sure, we checked ourselves out, but at first we weren’t sure if our presence was more of a threat than an advantage.
“I fell as if the ground kept moving under my feet,” my husband confessed a few months later. “Every time I try to take the plunge, I lose my balance.” But at least now we had a strange kind of solidarity – ours was no longer the only world to shake.
How can we continue when God calls us to stay put? How can we stay in places that feel like they are eroding?
Almost 18 months later, aftershocks started to fade. We emerge and try to restore life together. But a lot has changed. Church attendance lags, teachers and community leaders have early retirement, and the library is still not fully reopened. Wider political divides have separated friends, and views once considered moderate are now seen as “radical” by anyone without them.
We haven’t moved. But the world has changed around us.
And suddenly I find my notions of place questioned, especially my belief that embracing your place can provide a rare source of stability in modern life. As someone who aspires, in Wendell Berry’s words, to be part of the “belonging” of a place, this had been a difficult reality to come to terms with. I thought that taking root would bring permanence. But no one told me that earthquakes can uproot the strongest of trees.
I still believe that the Lord’s providence determines the limits of where we live and when (Acts 17:26). I still believe that we have to show ourselves in the communities in which we have been placed. But I appreciate more and more life east of Eden, a world in which our place can be shaken and disturbed. I now know that we should not trust the ground beneath our feet, at least not the stability of our soul.
So how can we continue when God calls us to stay put? How can we stay in places that feel like they are eroding despite our attempts to stay rooted there?
I’m still working this out. But I’m learning that you have to pay attention to changes. And we have to tell the truth about them. We need to tell the truth about the deeper rifts that existed long before the earthquake. We must tell the truth that they will represent dangers for generations to come. We also have to tell the truth that some places will never be what they used to be.
Sentimentality is the particular temptation of those of us who aspire to a place, and we must guard against it. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that the desire to live in a country of our imagination can change the course of history. We have also learned that the desire to make a land “beautiful again” will find special resonance in places whose changing stories have been left unattended and untold.
But as much as we mourn for communities that will never be what they once were, we also need to be open to the fact that some things need to change.
A a recent study suggests that 29 percent of pastors have considered leaving the ministry in the past year. Like their counterparts in other professions, many pastors are grappling with the trajectory and sustainability of their work. Earthquakes have a way of leveling weak or poorly designed infrastructure, exposing deeper concerns that we may have overlooked during more stable times.
Reflecting on this, Pastor John Starke of New York City Remarks that “while the pandemic has surely exposed what is fragile in our world and in the church, it has also exposed what is in vain … [some] had tried to build something that God had no intention of building. “
And so I wonder, how does work and life have to change not despite the earthquake but because this side ? What things need to be demolished to make room for new possibilities?
Reporting on the challenges churches face in the wake of the pandemic, Kate Shellnutt writes “What looks like struggles at the top of struggles could be an opportunity for the church to live up to its ideals, to take good care of one another. of others and to turn to God in their suffering. “
But more than anything right now, I find myself learning to hope – to believe that even if an earthquake remakes a place that this place may still hold a possibility and a call.
Years before moving to our current home, my husband and I moved to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, for a short-term ministry position. We lived in a borrowed house next to sheep fields and on the road past vineyards and apple orchards.
A particularly fertile region, Hawke’s Bay is also known for its history of seismic activity, and each year the town of Napier commemorates the 1931 earthquake. A 7.8 magnitude event, it remains New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster. Churches and schools have collapsed. Houses caught fire and were destroyed. Hundreds of dead and thousands more have been injured.
Finally, Napier rebuilt in its characteristic Art Deco style, and the city’s architecture has become world famous, attracting tens of thousands of people each year theme festival. But something else happened. The same earthquake that flattened Napier extended it, lifting nearly 40 square kilometers (about 10,000 acres) of viable real estate out of the ocean. Today, if you arrive at Hawke’s Bay Airport, the wheels of your plane will land on reclaimed ground from the sea.
For here is something else: in the New Testament, earthquakes accompany God’s apocalyptic work of redemption (Matt. 27: 51-54). They open tombs (Matt. 28: 2), break chains and unlock prison doors (Acts 16:26). And perhaps more than anything, they signal the presence of God in a place (Acts 4:31).
Right now, we have to find new ways to be in places we haven’t left. But having been stripped of our little dreams for the places we call home, we can dream again. Even as we continue through a landscape that seems alien to us, both familiar and unfamiliar, we take heart God is “our refuge and our strength, a help always present in troubles …
we will not be afraid, although the earth crumbles and the mountains fall to the heart of the sea, although its waters roar and foam and the mountains tremble with their surge. (Ps. 46: 1-3)
Instead of looking to a place, whether new or old, we look to a person. Because when our places change around us – when we can no longer recognize our communities, our country or our churches – God does not. And it is his fidelity that allows us to continue faithfully in spaces we would prefer to leave – and not only to stay there but to find contentment and joy there. We remember that we were never more than strangers and pilgrims on this earth to begin with.
And of this place, we can continue to that better land that awaits us — to this kingdom that cannot be shaken.
Hannah Anderson is the author of Designed for more, All is well, and Humble Roots: How Humility Founds and Nourishes Your Soul.