Unsettled in the Burbs

burbs8 Years ago, our family of 3 moved to the suburbs of Grand Rapids.  Neither Laura or I had ever really wanted to move here, but at the time it made total sense.  I was working at a church out here as a youth pastor.  With the crazy schedule that I kept, it was smart to be as close as possible.  I had windows of time I could be home even on long days, but with a 30 minute commute I couldn’t make that happen.  When the commute was only 5 minutes, I could jot home just for dinner, lunch, or whatever.  We were expecting our second child, and we wanted to maximize our potential family time.

Fast forward a few years:  we are now a family of 5, and our youngest is in pre-school.  Our two girls are in 4th and 2nd grade, and they fully enjoy school and are doing really well.  I don’t work at a church anymore, but my wife works in the city.  We drive to the city 5-7 times a week, sometimes more.  And…. we miss being in the city.  We are starting to think about moving back.  Actually, we’ve been thinking about this for awhile, but we are now taking steps to actually make it happen.

I have always been a bit unsettled in the suburbs.  I typically have an “I don’t belong” complex (my wife calls it the black-sheep syndrome), but it is stronger than that.  I realize that (generally speaking) the point of the suburbs is relative safety and similarity… but that is what drives me crazy about it.  The safety thing is overblown, and the sameness is absolutely mind-numbing.  I miss the diversity of both culture and experience that you get when living in a city.  We miss out when we close ouselves off from the diverse cultures, experiences, and challenges around us.  Of course, I can go find and be a part of diverse cultures, experiences, and challenges while living in the suburbs.  To some reality we do that.  However, I think one of the main points for living in the burbs is that people don’t want “those things” to encroach on their comfortable lifestyle.  They would much rather engage them on their own terms and I find that very limited.  I love this quote from Shane Claiborne:

I had come to see that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.

More often than not, this is what the suburbs do to us.  They keep us from getting to know the poor.  Of course, I can ignore the poor just as much in the city, but having lived there before, I can tell you it is much harder when they are physically your neighbors.

So that is part of it for our story.  But I think this quote from Shane might be more appropriate for us:

And I think that’s what our world is desperately in need of – lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way, and who actually know the faces of the people behind the issues they are concerned about.

My wife works for GRPS (Grand Rapids Public Schools), and she is pretty passionate about helping make that system a better place for children to learn.  She knows a lot of the faces and families who are struggling to make that happen as well.  The rub for us comes when we retreat to the safety and ease of the suburban schools, we then cease to be a fellow struggler.  This, I think is the crux for us…

Even though no one reads this blog, I guess I need to add my qualifying statements here.  Of course, I am not saying the suburbs are bad, or that everyone in them is bad.  Goodness, we have fantastic friends here, some of whom have recently played a huge part in helping us come to grips with some of these things we are wrestling with and encouraging us to act on them.  I know people here that do amazing things for the poor and suffering all over the world.  The point for us is not that the suburbs are bad, but ultimately that we are unsettled here, and for a variety of reasons we are drawn to the city.

Qualifying statement #2:  We are not drawn to the city because we want to or think we can “save” the city. I had just realized someone might think that from what I had written so far, so I want to go out of my way to say the opposite.  Honestly, there is a part of this that is totally selfish.  We feel like our lives will be richer by living in the city, both adults and kids.  We also know there are struggles and hardships that we are passionate about in the city.  The two, of course, are connected.  We will have richer lives when we are engaged in bringing restoration… and we are best suited to do that in the places were God has stirred up passion in us.  For us, it is looking more and more like that place is in Grand Rapids.