Settling Down without Settling
When you’re fourteen, you look forward to car keys. In high school, you just want the freedom of leaving home. When you get to university, you can’t wait to get out into the real world. When you land your first job, it’s all about getting a better job, buying that first home, proving you’re a grown-up.
And then one day, you find yourself in a scary place. You land.
You are where you will be, at least for the foreseeable future. You could even 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 alternate life you’ve envisioned for yourself. And that’s when the “Fear Of Missing Out” – F.O.M.O. – kicks in.
And it can be terrifying.
My wife, Jess, and I have been incredibly fortunate to have lived several alternate lives in the first few years of our relationship – working at a Christian summer camp in Canada, teaching kids how to snowboard in Aspen, living in London, serving at a hospital in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal for a year, preaching in a dirt-floored Mozambican church, writing magazine articles, and backpacking through South America and South-East Asia.
But now, by all external appearances, we’ve settled. We’re putting down roots. We moved back to our beloved hometown of Durban, bought a home, and popped out our first kid with another one on the way.
These days 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 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 crazy Bolivian buses, Thai 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 couch, a nicer coffee table or an electric nose-hair trimmer (that’s just for me), any of which we might own for the next decade.
We look around at people who have been on this “normal” route for longer than we have, and it’s scary how many are disappointed. Many are married, many have homes and several have children. Many wish their jobs paid just a little more. Some struggle to stay afloat, needing two salary-earners in the home even when one spouse would love to stay home or volunteer more. Others feel lonely and wish they could move closer to a church, friends or family.
But in the midst of all of this our commitment in this season is to make the “ordinary” into an adventure.
We want to choose to live and notice amazing days, right in the here and now. And so while we continue to figure out the daily rhythms of parenting, we are both pursuing our Masters in Theology. I try keep fit, and surf a couple times a week to refresh my soul. We take walks on the beach with our son a lot, and try to spend more evening hours talking to people and each other than watching stuff on TV. Our son rides his bike with fervour and we try not to slow him down too much because we’re tired. We help lead a great new church, and are feeling the thrill of participating in God’s bigger story. We’re getting to know some new folk, and helping to build a community.
And you wanna know a secret? We are LOVING it!
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, we sometimes feel like packing it all in and becoming traveling hippies living off the land. But truth be told, this is probably the biggest and most exciting adventure we’ve ever been on!