Posted by: Philip Rushton | April 9, 2013

A Post-Modern Vow Of Stability: The wisdom of staying put for a while

instability
Instability is one of the marks of our age.   People seem to be constantly on the move these days.   The labor department reports that, “the average person born in the later years of the baby boom held 10.5 jobs from age 18 to 40.”  The most recent U.S. Census tells us that people move an average of 11.7 times in a lifetime.   Switching churches seems to be a just as prevalent.  A couple years ago USA Today reported on a Lifeway research project that sought to understand why people move from church to church.  The top two reasons why people leave church is because they are either disenchanted with the pastor or church, or the church is not fulfilling their needs or the reasons they attended.

On the one hand, there is something freeing about the transiency of modern life.  It affords us the ability to make changes when needed, it encourages us to consider new possibilities and exciting experiences, and it frees us from being tied down to a job that is sapping the life out of us.

Yet, while we market the transiency of modern life as the ultimate freedom – “the possibilities are endless,” “it’s never too late to redefine yourself” – it can also leave us in a constant state discontent.  Brian Taylor writes, “in the instability of our age we are constantly reassessing the self – our directions and purpose, our commitments and values. Without the constancy of stability, this assessment can create chaos.” It appears as though our culture has extended the “turbulent 20’s” for a few extra decades.  Since we live in a constant state of re-evaluation we experience a disconnected an unstable existence.  While living with one foot out the door seems like the ultimate freedom it actually robs us from investing in meaningful relationships and experiencing the joy of stability.

In the monastic tradition monks often took a vow of stability.   This meant that a monk would commit to stay with one community in one place for life.  St Benedict believed this was the foundation for community and spiritual growth. By taking a vow of stability monks promised to stick with the community even when things got tough or conflicts arose.  This forced them to face reality rather then run from it.

In an ironic twist, Brian Taylor suggests that we actually experience freedom by staying put for a while.   He writes, “this is precisely what is so freeing about the vow of stability . . .  to have to work it out is to demand growth, as painful as it is, and that is freeing.  Faithfulness is a limit that forces us to stop running and encounter God, self, and the other right now, right here.” By committing to staying put we are freed from the chaos of always running from things.  It gets us out of the frustrating cycle of always trying to find greener pasture.  It calls us to be content and to engage the place we have been called to.

I personally resonate with the phrase, “faithfulness is a limit that forces us to stop running.”  I am a true product of the modern world.  I find myself constantly questioning my sense of vocation and place.  I often wonder if I’m following the right path.  I question whether the grass is greener a couple hundred miles up the I-5 in the land of grandparents and free child care.  I play the comparison game with friends and colleagues, wondering if they have it better off then me.  As a result I feel burdened with discontent and frustration.  I long for the freedom that comes with commitment and stability.  Yes, today I am preaching to myself!

There is a famous saying that goes, “wherever you go, there you are.” It is a reminder that external changes cannot remove us  from our internal reality.  We may leave one church to avoid conflict only to find ourselves getting in similar conflicts at the new church.  We may switch jobs to avoid frustration only to discover similar frustrations with our new employer.  The call to stay put for a while stops us from always being on the run.  It affords us the opportunity to experience stability and spiritual growth.  There are certainly times when it is appropriate to move or take on a new venture. We are all at different places in the journey. However, if we find ourselves constantly on the run, perhaps God is calling us to take a post-modern vow of stability right now!

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Responses

  1. We can only develop community, traditions, and customs by staying in one place.


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