This is for the wild ones.
This is for the people who never dreamed that sitting still was an option for them.
This is to myself, c.a. the majority of my life, as an exhortation.
I used to think that settling down was the opposite of a life fulfilled. Adventure awaited me in the distant corners of the world, and I intended to fill those corners with tales of my travels. For many years of my life, the world shrunk down to a more digestible size and I trotted about her surface like Peleg over Pangea.
I loved it.
And still do.
I love the feeling of mystery when I step through the sliding glass doors of an airport into the unfamiliar air. I love getting into a taxi and telling the driver to deliver me to an address I’ve never been to. I love standing atop high places and surveying fresh landscapes.
Not only is that way of life incredibly fun and exciting, but it looks really really good online. The digital Ethan is at least twice as cool as the real one because all my travel photos are gathered and displayed in one collection which can be reviewed in a matter of minutes.
But living a life in pursuit of adventure is not sustainable.
Not only is it ultimately unfulfilling, but it bears little to no fruit. When our goal is to bounce from here to there every other week, we lose the ability to put deep roots down anywhere, or in anyone. And we lose the opportunity to be known deeply by others and therefore be poured into.
This describes me pretty well for about half a decade. I was with various ministries around the world, thinking I was performing spectacular feats for the Lord, but in retrospect, my efforts were mostly in vain.
I used to think God had called me to a life on the road, ministering to people as I go. But since I’ve become a youth pastor, I’ve realized that real ministry never really happened in the fleeting glances I would cast at people while I drove through their city. I’d bounce from place to place, praying for people for a week here, and teaching them for a week there, but to what end? Any gardener will tell you that if you want to produce any kind of crop, you can’t be throwing some seed and peacing out. It takes time and work over a long time to create fruit.
So now, a position where I’m committed to take care of these kids may sound more boring than my trip across Brazil, but it is SO much more rewarding. Not only do I get to minister to them several times a week, but I actually get to stick around and see the fruits of that labor! I may go so far as to say that when I was wandering the world with various organizations, I did almost no real, meaningful ministry.
So last night, I came up with a question…
If that way of life is both unsustainable and unfruitful, would God really call anyone to it? Or do we concoct those phrases in order to justify our jaunts around the globe? Many people in the missions organizations I worked with, including me, had that mindset of bouncing around and calling it ministry. And they had nothing but the best intentions, except for maybe a hint of millennial wanderlust.
Compare that to missionaries who move to a new country or city and commit to spending the rest of their lives there. How much more fruit will they see?
There is a story about Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to the people of China, and his devotion to the people he loved. He had relocated to China, but after many years there, his teeth began to rot and he had to go back to America to get some of them pulled. While he was on the dentist’s chair, he told the dentist to simply pull all of them so he wouldn’t have to leave his beloved Chinese congregation again.
Yes, he traveled to a different nation to proclaim the gospel of Christ, but his motives did not include envy-inducing Instagram pictures and cool stories. He wanted to take the name of Christ to the ends of the earth so they would be saved. And when he arrived there, he stayed.
Think about the way many of us view romantic relationships. I’ve been single since the introduction of the steam locomotive, and there is a part of me that loves the idea of being able to date anyone I want: The exotic beauty from the Maldives, or the Croatian goddess. The ability to date whomever I wish offers a certain type of freedom, but is this freedom truly what humans were made for?
There is a difference between settling and settling down.
Settling down involves making the choice to say, ‘I choose this woman and I will give myself to her and enjoy her.’ Settling implies that I am missing out on something better by choosing her.
I’m realizing that settling down is a good thing, and it does not necessarily mean I’m settling.
This is also true of ministry and choosing where to live. Choosing to commit to a certain place, a certain church and group of people can seem like a loss of freedom, but how much more rich is it! We gain the opportunity to be known and loved by others; we get to minister to others and see the long-term fruits of our labors; and we get to experience deep rootedness.
Everyone sacrifices some freedoms in exchange for other—often greater—freedoms.
I recently got curious and did a Bible search of the word ‘wander.’ What I found was somewhat shocking. Not once is the word used positively. In fact, God often cursed groups of people by causing them to wander. Conversely, He blessed people by giving them land to settle and put down roots.
Our culture is one that praises the individual who is a wanderer, a traveler finding her own path.
But it seems as if God designed us to be rooted and nurtured by a stable and sustainable community. And that is the environment in which we can be most fruitful as well. If you think about it, travel is often a selfish endeavor. The one who benefits most is the one on the trip. No one has ever said to me, “That adventure you went on last month benefitted me so much!” More often, my journeys are simply envy-inducing and look better after they’re digitally formatted.
The same is true romantically. Sure, I could go have emotion-fueled flings with a dozen women around the world, but isn’t it healthier to commit myself to one woman who will love me and spur me to grow, as I do the same for her?
Is it settling if what I gain is greater than what I lose?
So I’m working on it. Learning how to be rooted takes time, as does growing actual trees and producing literal fruit. A big slice of me still longs to depart and breathe in that foreign air—and I probably still will fairly often—but I’m also learning how to settle down and develop healthy routines and rhythms here in Colorado for as long as I’m here. I’m training myself to appreciate this place more than I’m longing to take off and be elsewhere.
Wanderlust is an escape. It’s something our culture romanticizes, but which is ultimately unhealthy. To be frank, it’s immaturity.
May we be people who learn how to be rooted. People who are able to commit to others, to churches, to our spouses, and to locales, for the flourishing of ourselves and others.