We’re an up-and-outta-here generation. Or maybe it’s Cambridge that skews my perspective. It’s a town that breaths deep from its diaphragm: its tummy inflating and contracting, taking in tourists and day-trippers, visiting scholars and students, and then breathing them out again (almost always in the direction of London). After four years, I’m about to leave the comfort of a town in which I know the one-way streets, the cheapest places to get coffee, the shortcuts and the summer evening sun-spots. More to the point, I’m about to leave a treasure-chest of faces who over the past year have watched my togetherness unravel, and never once cringed. The thought of not seeing my housemates and our hotchpotch circle of fellow disciples makes my stomach churn as if I woke up to find myself alone a hundred miles deep into the Yorkshire moors.
Once upon a time, I fully expected to be a go-where-the-flow-takes-me twenty-something. Competitive job market, dispersed family, finally working out how Skype works- not staying put seemed like the default. After all, if The Proclaimers would walk 500 miles for their sweetheart and Vanessa Carlton 1000 miles, clearly true love meant going to another continent in order to make a passionate declaration that you’d walk right back for the one you had left behind. The only obstacle, highlighted by Tony Christie/ Peter Kay, would be if one had to incessantly ask directions on such an odyssey. There’s an appealing potential for re-invention that comes with moving to a new place (as if I ever was capable of such imaginative self-deception in the first place…). And in my more self-sufficient moods, an okey-kokey lifestyle seems to promise the ability to keep everyone at an arm’s length. Which, in turn, means protecting myself from feeling abandoned, or worrying about whether people are bored with me yet.
But this year has been steadily exposing the aridness of keeping myself to myself, and how much I need people to not be convinced by any of my facades. So the thought of flitting around has lost its allure. Whenever there is a christening or wedding, we as the body of believers covenant to uphold each other in their walk with God- I don’t like the thought of having made those promises, and then moving so I won’t be able to see them through. I want to watch the texture of the relationships in my church thicken and their flavour heighten as we see each other through the ebb and flow of life. I want to model and see modelled God’s steadfastness among His people, rather than us more resembling a University society holding members for three years at most. I want small-talk to be far outweighed by to-the-heart questions. So maybe the nomadic lifestyle of awkward handshakes and asking myself ‘do they think I’m weird’ seventeen times a conversation isn’t for me. And yet, it is a matter of days away…
This is normally the part where I give you ‘the happy ending’. But actually, it isn’t mine to give (because it isn’t fully felt). As physical appearances go, I will be living in a place of uncertainty for a couple of months at least. If left to my own devices, I would be clinging to my mum’s ankles and asking her to stay with me ‘til I’m 48. But there is a deeper certainty that endures whatever the apparent indication of circumstances, and however wavering my will:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
We can choose to rejoice in God, even if our emotions are lagging behind, because God’s acts of salvation and strengthening tend to go beyond the realms of our imagination anyway. Mine is a divided heart; Jesus Christ “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8). And His days as a wandering preacher are behind Him: now He reigns with God the Father, His presence filling the heavens and the earth. I think that includes south of the M25….