Recently, I read “The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. In the book, he writes, “Christian wisdom about stability points us toward the true peace that is possible when our spirits are stilled and our feet are planted in a place we know to be holy ground.”
Now, for many of us, this sounds about as far away from freedom as we can get. As a 22-year-old who just graduated college, I remember hearing all the time that the best way to find myself and to have the freedom to be myself was to travel. But Wilson-Hartgrove pushes back against that. His entire book argues that we can’t truly have the freedom to know ourselves and others until we put down solid roots.
The more I thought about Wilson-Hartgrove’s message, the more it made sense to me. I’m in a stage of life now where I’ve moved to a new place, and I don’t feel as free to be myself as I did when I had stable roots put down at Greenville College. Wilson-Hartgrove writes, “Stability’s wisdom insists that spiritual growth depends on human beings rooting ourselves in a place on earth with other creatures.”
So it would seem that our freedom to grow is tied into other people. It’s by having relationships with other people that we are pushed to be more than we are. For me, that has meant being involved in opportunities I would never have pursued if it wasn’t for my friends in college. It’s because of John Perkins that I really began thinking about what it looks like for me to work in an urban ministry setting. I think that God intends for us to be in community so that He can use the people around us to push us toward Him and the path that He has set before us. That means that we, as Christians, have to be willing to stay in one place for a while.
Scripture talks about the tree that was planted and then was moved to a new spot. Some trees still survived this transition. They didn’t flourish because their roots weren’t fully planted in the ground. That applies to God’s people as well. While we often have the option and will to move, whether that’s for school, a new job or just for want of new scenery, it often hinders our spiritual growth to leave the place where we are known. One of Wilson-Hartgrove’s points is that we have to surround ourselves with people who know us deeply because it’s in living with these people that we have the space to discern the calling for our life. It’s easy to go off and say that something is the calling for your life when you’re on your own. There’s no accountability there, and it becomes too easy to just assume that what you want is what God wants. No, we have to be rooted in a community so that community members can help us truly discern what God has called us to.
So what does that mean for a generation that’s more ready to pick up and go rather than put down roots? Part of it is living with the understanding of this wisdom of the desert tradition: “If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave the place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you. So stay until the trial is over, so that if you do end up leaving, no offense will be caused, and you will not bring distress to others who live in the same neighborhood” (author unknown).
This wisdom challenges the notion that we can just pick up and leave whenever the going gets rough. I will admit a lot of the members of my generation have commitment issues, but part of that is because we were taught that if something gets really hard, it’s OK to leave it behind. If a person offends us, we have the freedom to write that person out of our lives. But that’s not how we grow. We grow spiritually and mentally by staying with a person or group until we’ve attempted to work through a problem. Too often, more problems are caused when we ignore them. That’s the point the desert wisdom is trying to get across. When we run away from our problems, we often find them waiting for us in the place we land. In order to have true freedom, we have to embrace God’s call to be fully engaged wherever we are. In learning to live in community, we can begin to see what the kingdom will look like.
As Wilson-Hartgrove quotes from the desert fathers, “In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.”
Lexi Baysinger is a recent graduate of Greenville College where she received degrees in youth ministry and English. She is currently working as an apprentice for the Urban Mission Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
- Have you planted roots where you are, or are you already looking toward the next opportunity where you are?
- How have you given yourself to the place God has called you to be?
- Can you think of a problem that has seemed to follow you wherever you go? If so, knowing that our freedom comes when we work through our problems, how are you going to face the problem?