On the days when I feel unsettled and isolated and like I don't fit, I reflect on the truth and hope of heaven.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Soon after I returned from a year-long reporting trip in Liberia, West Africa, I settled into my hometown in North Carolina and began trying to figure out a "new life." I relished the initial comforts the United States had to offer me — electricity, hot water, cable, clean feet, a salon visit to get my hair done.
I left behind the troubles and frustrations of living in a war-torn country — Liberia has been destroyed by 14 years of terrible civil war — and tried to focus on where I "fit" next.
The problem was, I didn't feel like I "fit" anywhere. In my hometown, I became restless and anxious. I felt isolated from friends. I didn't have a job. I struggled to process all I had seen and experienced in Liberia, where I had recorded Liberians' war stories and watched traumatized people suffer.
I thought a move to a city filled with people my age, old friends and "things to do" would improve my mood. So I moved to Washington, D.C. I had lived in the D.C. area for about three years before moving to Liberia. There were so many characteristics of the nation's capital that I was drawn to — my friends, diversity, cultural events, opportunities to serve where need was so obvious.
I thought surely I would feel like I "fit." I thought the isolation would dissipate, that my weekends would be filled with friends and laughter and maybe even some dates, that magically I'd find community and be comforted by belonging.
But I didn't feel like I belonged.
Part of the problem was that I was in transition, and transition takes time to work itself out. The other part of the problem was that I didn't have time. I would only be able to stay in D.C. for a about six months. Shortly after I got back from Liberia, I was accepted to divinity school. In Liberia, God had changed my life. He showed me more of my vocation — and that meant that I would leave journalism and pursue ministry. I would be moving yet again by this fall.
Some friends thought I should move to the city where my divinity school is located and start building a life there. I, however, was looking for a quick fix to my terrible disposition. At least in D.C., I wouldn't be starting over. I had friends there. I recognized streets and landmarks. I had "my" grocery store.
In D.C., the reality of being away for a year hit me hard. A year really is a long time to be away. So much had changed. Many of my single friends were married. I definitely wanted to hang with them, but coordinating schedules between husbands and babies was difficult. I also found that when they did have time, I was going on lots of individual friend "dates" instead of hanging out with groups of people. My single friends were plugged into their social groups, and often I felt forgotten. I did my best to get plugged into a new community and to make new friends. But it was hard to feel like the new person all the time. I still felt lonely. I still felt isolated. I still felt like I didn't fit.
One day as I was walking down the street in my neighborhood to my new grocery store, I came upon a sign that told the story of the community's beginnings. The "Shaw" district is one of D.C.'s oldest neighborhoods. It has been known as a "place between places," a neighborhood where people of many classes and races lived and interacted while they got settled in D.C. It was a community home to immigrants, laborers, businessmen, the powerful and the poor. Today, many Washingtonians trace their roots to Shaw.
I was struck by the description of Shaw — a place people settled before finding "their place" in the city.
That was exactly where I felt I was in my life — in a "place between places." I was struggling to find a place where I fit and where I felt settled. But the symbolism of my new neighborhood was a gentle and creative reminder to me that we all find ourselves in places between places. I had spent the last year of my life moving from a war-torn country to my hometown to D.C. Soon I'd be moving yet again to a new city. My life would be filled with places between places always.
And that is because all of my "places" are temporary until I reach my permanent place with God in Heaven.
There is no wonder that we don't always feel like we fit or belong in this world. I think we can get close to feeling settled. I think we can enter wonderful, supportive communities. I think that at times, we even can feel moments of too much comfort. But the reality is that we were never meant to stay in this world.
God has something much greater planned for those who love Him. He has secured a place void of pain and suffering. He has designed a home that is more beautiful than anything we could ever imagine, a city of "pure gold, as pure as glass," writes Revelation, with city walls of sapphire, amethyst, topaz and other precious stones. It is a home that does not need electricity or sun or the moon "for the glory of God gives it light." Best of all, it is a place where you and I will be given a new body, free of sickness and the likeness of Jesus. It is a place that Christ followers will live in perfection with God forever.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that "when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it." Perhaps we feel a longing for something greater than this world. Perhaps we feel that we do not fit or belong. But we do not recognize that our longing is for a place beyond this place.
Lewis further explains:
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.
Jesus promised believers that He would not leave us in this world forever. He promised that the Father would make His home in our hearts (John 14: 23). But it is not until Heaven that we can fully experience being at home with Him. Until then, we long for the permanence and perfection of Heaven.
On the days when I feel unsettled and isolated and like I don't fit, I reflect on the truth and hope of Heaven. I remember that I was not designed to stay here forever. I hold onto the truth that I was made for a perfect home with my Creator. I focus on not what is seen, but what is unseen, trusting that what is unseen is eternal and what is seen is temporary.
And as I wait in my places between places, that kind of truth gives me hope. One day, I know I will belong.
Copyright 2010 Christina Holder. All rights reserved.