This article is from Issue 59: Sep/Oct 2012

Settling Down Without Settling

When you’re 10, you look forward to car keys. In high school, you just want the freedom of leaving home. When you get to college, you can’t wait to change the world after graduation. When you land your first job, it’s all about getting a better job, going to grad school, buying that first home, proving you’re a grown-up.

And then one day, you find yourself in a terrifying place. You land. You are where you will be, at least for the foreseeable future. You could be there until retirement or death. And that means you won’t be in the dozen other places you’d like to be. You won’t live every alternative life you’ve envisioned for yourself.

This is terrifying.

We’ve been fortunate to live several alternative lives for the past dozen years—working on refugee resettlement, teaching English in China, growing organic vegetables for a CSA farm, photographing weddings, preaching in a dirt-floored Nicaraguan church, writing books and magazine articles, teaching about economic development and riding motorcycles across southern Africa.

But now, by all external appearances, we’ve settled. We’re putting down roots. We moved back to the U.S., bought a home and started jobs we expect to keep for 10 years or more.

The word “settling” often precedes those ugly words “for less.” It carries that frightening connotation of compromise, like letting the person you love slip away while you marry somebody else.
Is it inevitable we settle like that?

The world (or is it the Church?) tells us we can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone. But the reality is, we have limits. We are in this place, doing this thing, being this person. In these particularities, we become ordinary.
Our minds echo with fresh memories of Nicaraguan chicken buses, Chinese banquets and three-hour Zulu church services under a corrugated roof. We try to make community in a dry and weary suburbia, everyone spread out and busy. We make decisions about buying a new washing machine, a nicer couch or an electric toothbrush, any of which we might own for the next decade. We stick with a church even when we don’t like everything about it. We try to figure out how to keep our kids from becoming Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber.

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