Michelle Van Loon: How Restlessness Leads Us to Jesus

I’ve lived a tumbleweed life: I’ve had 16 addresses, been employed at 10 full-time jobs, eight part-time jobs, and a bushel basketful of freelance gigs. I’ve belonged to 20 churches and visited too many to count as I’ve searched for an ecclesial family that I know will be home only until it’s time to relocate once again.

You might say wandering is in my blood. My Jewish forebears learned many generations ago that being anchored in a community was a luxury reserved for others. We learned to ply a life from the rickety throwaway homes at the ragged edges of other cultures, always aware that at any moment, it might be time to leave or else be killed. Without realizing why, I learned early on to keep a stash of battered moving boxes on hand because you never know when it might be time to use them.

I’m not alone. Every one of us carries a restlessness that runs as deep as the marrow of our born-again bones. Although our consumer culture often tells us the cure is to buy a new mattress, a new car, or a new tube of toothpaste, we know that the experience of exile is common to humankind. No matter where we live, we find ourselves far from home. As author Jen Pollock Michel notes, “Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.”

As believers, this ancient desire is at the heart of our wandering. We are people who live in a state of exile, sent from Eden to make our way through a world shaped by sweat and sorrow. There is hopeful news, however: Exile is not a terminal point or a destination. Rather, it’s meant to transform us into pilgrims.

The experience of exile comes in many forms. Although Americans are a people on the move— 11 percent of Americans will relocate this year—almost 40 percent of us will live our entire lives in our hometown. If we’re honest, most will affirm that the sense of restlessness we feel has nothing to do with how long we’ve lived at our current address.

Many others across the globe will never have the privilege of naming that restlessness from the relative comfort of a specific place. They’ve been uprooted from homes and communities because of famine or war or both. Estimates suggest that more than 68 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced, and it’s safe to say the lion’s share of them would not have chosen this plotline for their story.

For some of us, exile comes in the form of family. Divorce, death, and dysfunction drive us from one another. Minority groups experience exile when they face systemic injustice or discrimination and find themselves on the outside looking in. Others of us find that the place intended to be a community of love and welcome—our local church—has instead left us feeling like outcasts.

Although these various circumstances underscore the state of spiritual exile that runs deep within each of us, they ultimately point us toward the Savior who is calling us from exile to follow him. As we struggle to keep our eyes on Christ, Scripture invites us to practice three parallel, often-overlapping streams of pilgrimage:

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Source: Christianity Today