I Hate Moving

by Katherine Seat

A string of fairy lights ties memories of my first baby to a night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We decorated our house with the lights, along with postcards and photos. Giving birth in a country we had never lived in was surreal. 

I tried to make our room feel like home right away. I couldn’t invest too much though; we would only be there for three months.

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I tacked up, taped up, and tied up satiny scarves from the local market to begin my first year in Cambodia. Brown marks littered my bedroom walls from the last person’s posters. The ceiling was too low. Natural light and airflow did not exist. 

I needed to make my room feel like home right away. I couldn’t invest too much though; I would only be there for ten months.

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To combat the dark months of a northeast Chinese winter, I populated my apartment with pot plants. I arranged photos and pictures above the radiator. The colourful doona cover I received from college friends brightened up my sofa. It was a challenge finding a place for the washing machine that still allowed me to use the kitchen. 

I needed to make my room feel like home right away. I couldn’t invest too much though; I would only be there for eighteen months.

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As a group, we cross cultural-workers frequently pack and unpack. We’re not the only ones, but it is a characteristic of ours – and I’m not talking about vacations. Sometimes we live in temporary housing for training. Sometimes we go to a different country for medical care. Sometimes we spend months visiting supporters in multiple locations. We are often living out of bags and often without a home base.  

What do you do if you only have a short time left in a cold climate and your shoes break? It feels like a waste of money to buy brand new shoes that you will only wear for a limited time. But you also cannot walk around with bare feet. And what if it’s not the first time you’ve had to make that decision? And what if you have a hundred other similar dilemmas?   

How do you cope if you constantly have to be settled enough to function but are never able to fully settle? Always feeling like you want to go home but knowing that nowhere feels like home.

“I hate having to pack up again; I never get to unpack properly. But I know I have an eternal home waiting for me, and Jesus didn’t have anywhere to rest. And anyway, at least I have somewhere to live; some people don’t even have that. What’s more, I have electricity and indoor plumbing, so my life is easier than most. I have so much to be thankful for, stop complaining.”

Have you ever talked to yourself (or a friend) like that? I know I have. As if knowing I have a better home waiting for me will cancel out the feeling of wanting to rest. Maybe we think if we really believe in our eternal home, we shouldn’t feel difficult emotions around moving house. 

I’m reminded of Peter Scazzero’s words in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:

We inflate ourselves with a false confidence to make those feelings go away. We quote Scripture, pray Scripture, and memorize Scripture—anything to keep ourselves from being overwhelmed by those feelings! 

“Like most Christians, I was taught that almost all feelings are unreliable and not to be trusted. They go up and down and are the last thing we should be attending to in our spiritual lives. It is true that some Christians live in the extreme of following their feelings in an unhealthy, unbiblical way. It is more common, however, to encounter Christians who do not believe they have permission to admit their feelings or express them openly. This applies especially to ‘difficult’ feelings as fear, sadness, shame, anger, hurt, and pain.”

Am I suggesting we stop reminding ourselves and each other of God’s truth? No, but let’s notice how we do it. What is happening when we tell ourselves, “I have an eternal home waiting for me”? Are we trying to make the feeling go away, or are we leaving room for feelings alongside the truth?

Perhaps we need to acknowledge the problem in order to receive God’s comfort.  It’s not until I took notice of the unsettledness and how much I hated it that I was reminded that God was with me. If we are trying to deny unpleasant feelings, perhaps we will also miss the comfort.

Yes, we can be glad we have our eternal home waiting for us and that we have a roof over our heads. That acknowledgement doesn’t cancel out the difficulties. We still feel homeless and unsettled.

In some cases it may be wise to take a break from pain for a while, or maybe we need help to face it safely. But in many cases of moving-house-pain, we may just need to acknowledge that it is really hard and that we hate it.

I suspect that to help others with their pain, we need to deal with our own pain first. If we are trying to reach people for Christ or bringing up children, this is all the more important. Are we sharing a faith that makes uncomfortable feelings go away as soon as they arise? Is it our goal to make people happy as soon as possible? Or are we living a faith that brings real long-term comfort?

I live among people whose daily life is hard. Complex and severe issues seem to impact them every step of the way. What if I were to treat my neighbors’ problems by glossing over them with, “At least it’s not as bad as it could be”? Or by telling them I will fix their problem? Or by quoting out-of-context Bible verses about hope? I don’t think any of those would be useful. 

How can I point them to the source of Hope while they are living with so many difficulties? I don’t write as one who is an expert at this; rather I’m reflecting on being on the receiving end. The most useful pastoral care I’ve received is from people who listen and help me notice that my pain exists. It helps me see what is really happening, and it feels like they are with me, which reminds me that God is with me.  

Other people I’ve gone to for help either haven’t realised the depth of my pain or have been in a hurry to apply the correct solution so we can all continue on, happy as usual. It can make me feel like I shouldn’t be in pain. Am I doing something wrong? Am I beyond help?

If our reaction to pain is to solve the problem or explain why it is not painful, it may be that we never sit with the pain long enough to receive comfort.

Perhaps we can learn to notice our own feelings while remembering God is with us in the packing, the unpacking, and everything in between. Then perhaps our awareness of pain and our experience of God’s comfort will help us to bring God’s comfort to others.

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Katherine’s childhood church in Australia launched her on a trajectory to Asia. After a decade of preparation she landed in Cambodia and married a local Bible teacher. Read Katherine’s other posts at Linktree and connect with her on Instagram.

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A Life Overseas is a collective blog centered around the realities, ethics, spiritual struggles, and strategies of living overseas. Elizabeth Trotter is the editor-in-chief.