The Courage Not to Wander
Stories like mine are not flashy.
Recently I listened as two friends discussed their lives over the past few years. Much of the conversation was spent discussing all the different places they had lived and what they had done while they were there. When the conversation turned to me and what I had been doing and what I see for the future, I almost felt ashamed as I admitted I didn’t see myself likely moving anywhere. With a good job, an owned home, and many family and friends in the area, including young nieces and nephews, it would take a lot to push or pull me elsewhere. And I’ve never been the type who longs to try another city just for the fun of it.
There's excitement and intrigue in always popping up in new places. The decision to move to different places, whether for work or a relationship or for fun, is often praised as courageous and brave.
And of course, it is. To leave everything familiar and commit to learning new roads and new stores and new buildings takes a gumption—an oomph—and a willingness to throw everything into the air and hope it lands in the right place. Many people, like my friends, thrive in these circumstances. The drive to explore different and undiscovered places pulls and pushes them about, giving them courage to start over once again.
At least I think that’s what it must be like. I don’t actually know from firsthand experience. Whatever drives my friends seems to be missing in me, or it takes some other form. Going to college half an hour from where I went to high school is the farthest I’ve gone, and while the time after college found me moving to a different house or apartment once a year for several years, even that has settled. Every night I come home to the same condo I have owned for nearly four years now.
Stories like mine are not flashy. No one says, “You’re so brave,” when I tell them I live in the same city I grew up in. Sometimes it’s met with surprise, other times something closer to disdain. When we’re encouraged to see the world as our oyster, how dare we—and why would we—stay put instead?
Staying vs. Stuck
Part of the dilemma is that staying often gets conflated with being stuck, but there is an important difference. Staying is active. It acknowledges other options, perhaps even explores them, and then consciously chooses the current option. Stuck is an inability—sometimes for very good reason—or an unwillingness to look at other options or to take steps towards making them a reality.
Since staying is often viewed as something that happens to you against your will, some people view staying as a simple resignation to what already is, making it easy to miss its own brand of courageousness. It’s not nearly as Instagrammable as moving boxes and cross-country road trips, yet it’s just as meaningful.
How do we continue to cultivate a thriving life when we take the same train to work every weekday for years, shop at the same stores for groceries, and greet the same people in the church lobby every Sunday? It takes a lot of intentionally choosing, over and over, to see the beauty of being rooted, the comfort of routine, the joy of long-term commitment to the same people, the value in continuing on even if we feel a little bored with the sameness.
Yet while being in the same physical location guarantees that some pieces of life will stay the same, everything else will, to some extent, always be changing. There may be new jobs entirely, new apartments or first houses, old friends leaving and new friends arriving. Change might pop into our lives in unexpected or unwelcomed ways, and there’s a finesse and a bravery to wrestle through those changes.
Courage also comes in the form of choosing to work through the awkward, messy, and difficult. It can be tempting to walk away from jobs, living situations, or relationships when they’re not going as we hoped or expected. When we leave early, we miss the chance of ever seeing the redemption of what we thought was too far gone.
Staying put will never have the same flash as seeking out the new and undiscovered. But when we glorify the going and demonize the staying, we miss out on the goodness already in front of us, and discount the good work of commitment. Sometimes it takes an incredible amount of courage to do what we can, with what we have, right where we are.
Cover image by George Pagan III.