The Traveler’s Curse

Anyone who has spent significant time in more than one place knows that the moment you leave home; you never return. Sure you almost certainly may physically go back home but it will be different. With experience of life in a different place comes the fragmenting of your conceptualization of “home”. I’ve tried to define “home” before, but because I want to discuss something different here I won’t get caught up in semantics.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This, of course, is Jeremiah 29:11. The verse often taken a bit out of context and posted on Facebook during exam week; as if God having a plan means you don’t have to study for that Calculus exam.

Actually this verse is part of a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah to the surviving elders and priests exiled in Babylon. The craziest thing about this letter is the first request. “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce… Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you will prosper.”

This is an incredible request as in the next paragraph the LORD promises to take them all back to the land where they came from. These people have been exiled (unwillingly relocated), God promises to eventually bring them back “home”, and his first request is: make Babylon your “home”. You’d think the letter would go more like, “Hey guys, I’m coming for you, so, just hold tight”.

A close friend of mine, who is also temporarily living in a “different place”, revealed this bizarre request to me a couple months ago and I’ve been chewing on the implications of it ever since. I find myself in a situation where I will leave Western Kenya in the middle of July, so how do I continue to make this place “home” when I know my time here is quickly coming to an end (for now)? Am I currently living in a way that as my city goes I go? Have I really made Western Kenya my home?

This is the traveler’s curse. Experiencing life fully in a different place hurts. It hurts because to experience life in full capacity you must become a part of a place. To live you must do the things that everybody does when they live. This platitude may seem rather obvious but it tells us something important. Sure experiencing life involves breathing, eating, seeing, and smelling. But it also requires inquiry, interest, sacrifice, gain, loss, joy, and suffering. Life is life no matter where you live it and it all depends on how you live it. Perhaps the traveler’s curse is more of a paradoxical blessing.

If I may generalize this point and Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles a bit more broadly, this speaks to how we ought to live on earth with the knowledge that someday we will leave this place. It may be tempting to just look forward to life after departure and simply prepare others and ourselves for that time. This may in fact be our natural reaction. However, God tells us through Jeremiah’s letter to “Build homes… plant gardens… make families… seek peace and prosperity” precisely because someday we will no longer be here.

We are here on earth and we will soon leave this place but we are to make this place our home. We now may have the best definition of “home” so far. Seek peace and prosperity, care for it and its people, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

“You will never be completely at home again,

because part of your heart will always be elsewhere.

That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

– Miriam Adeney

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