I do not relocate well.
I was all at sea when I first moved from Penang to Singapore to do my university studies. I was depressed, unable to focus and ended up doing poorly in my first year. I didn’t feel better till my second year. I completed my dental degree and worked in Singapore for three years. Then it was time to relocate to Vancouver.
I often felt down in my first year in Vancouver. Vancouver was beautiful and studying at Regent College was the fulfilment of a dream. Still I felt lost a lot of the time that first year. Didn’t know why till John Nolland, a prof and mentor, alerted me to the fact that I had gone through many changes and had left much behind when I left Malaysia/Singapore to go to Vancouver. Again things began to pick up in my second year.
I have recently relocated to Singapore after 17 years in Kuala Lumpur. I feel lost again. I believe I am here in obedience to God’s will. My wife and family are fantastic. My new church is great. But 17 years is a long time. I have left behind friends, neighbours, tradesmen — a whole host of relationships that made for rootedness. If my past experiences are any guide, I will take at least a year to feel at home in Singapore.
I now take such periods of “lostness” to remind myself that my true home is God Himself. God is here. I am seeking to walk in His will. I am at home in Him whatever my emotional state may be. I understand better when I hear Paul say:
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
(Philippians 1: 21-24 TNIV)
There will be one relocation which will be welcomed — our last one. To return to the Lord is to go home. It is to go to a place where every experience of belonging in this life is but an echo and a foretaste.
In which case we will never be fully at home in this world whatever our address. Indeed we should not be fully at home in this world because the location of our true home lies outside all earthly GPS systems.
Still there is one factor that helps us feel more at home as we journey through this life — friends. As Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton remind us:
“Great relationships lead to a significant increase in life satisfaction. Noted psychologist Ed Diener found that ‘the happiest people have high-quality social relationships.’ On the other hand Deiner and other researchers found that lonely people suffer psychologically.”
(How Full is Your Bucket? New York: Gallup Press, 2004, p. 96)
The destructive nature of loneliness was appallingly highlighted by the recent killings in Virginia Tech. Why did Cho Seung-Hui shoot 32 people before turning his gun on himself? Sharon Begley suggests various factors that led to Cho’s madness including the reminder that “Rates of criminal violence are higher in mobile and heterogeneous societies where it is hard to put down roots and establish the social glue that binds people into a community.” (The Anatomy of Violence, Newsweek April 30, 2007, p. 30)
In the same article Begley refers to “the competitive, individualistic aspects of American culture.” (p.30) She could have been talking about Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or any major urban centre in the world. With globalisation so many of us are moving out of our communities to live and work in other parts of the globe. How many of us are therefore bereft of the life giving nurture of friends? And even if we stay put how much time does the modern “competitive, individualistic” workplace allow for us to build and sustain friendships?
Way back in 1981 Henri Nouwen already observed:
“Boredom, resentment, and depression are all sentiments of disconnectedness. They present life to us as a broken connection. They give us a sense of not-belonging. In interpersonal relationships, this disconnectedness is experienced as loneliness. When we are lonely we perceive ourselves as isolated individuals surrounded, perhaps, by many people, but not really part of any supporting or nurturing community. Loneliness is without doubt one of the most widespread diseases of our time.”
(Making All Things New, New York: HarperCollins, 1981, p.32)
If loneliness was widespread in 1981 it is pandemic today. My “lostness” also serves as a reminder of its violence.
How will I move beyond my present sense of “lostness?” I have to work at rebuilding my network of friends. I have a number of good friends in Singapore. And some new relationships are promising.
Still, there is no instant connectedness. I have to take the first steps to connect and to reconnect. I will. I am. I have to. Like the disciples on the Emmaus road discovered, sometimes, when you walk with a friend, Jesus comes along side and walks with you (Luke 24: 13-15).
And that’s home.