Change and Permanence – Living Within the Tension

“I have certainly felt that feeling of being rootless, identityless and of the unspoken accusation of treachery, betrayal and of being oddity for not having a ‘normal’ identity as well as the loneliness of not having a home, a city to call my own, a fridge to open and a family to hug when I am struggling on my own thousands of miles away from them. I remember it well. And now, funnily enough as I read your post, I realize I have come to glory in my chameleonicity. I see it as such a huge advantage. I see myself as a planted solidly on a floating iceberg, floating between cultures and countries but oh so secure … And what seemed like a gross disadvantage when I was in my twenties trying to work out who on earth I was, now, that adaptability is prized, valued, rich and precious.”

This comment, posted on “Chameleon, Impostor, or Third Culture Kid” is from Sophie who blogs at Little Gumnut. In her own words, Sophie is “English, grew up in Pakistan but the school that I went to was multicultural and had its own unique culture separate to the Pakistani culture.  In addition, I married a Frenchman and gave birth to children in England, New Zealand and Australia.”  No wonder she has insight on identity and belonging.

Another insightful observation came from my mom by way of email. You can read more about my mom here and here, but I wanted to share her words as I feel they may resonate with many of us.

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The post “Chameleon, Impostor, or Third Culture Kid?” struck a real chord with me.  We were responsible from the human side for bringing up five Third Culture Kids.  In the process we ourselves became what I call Third Culture Adults.  We had strong roots in our families with stable homes, siblings, cousins, and all the other relatives that make up an extended family.  When God called us to live and work in Pakistan, we pulled up those roots.  Returning to the USA for short periods, to my home town, I realized that we didn’t really belong there anymore.

During one of those times when we were living in a rented home, with furniture that didn’t belong to us, I sat talking with a new friend.  She had amazing insights into what I must feel, living like a pilgrim, with the furnishings that belonged to the woman who had owned the house before she died.  She said something that really stuck with me: “I guess you don’t get hung up on things, do you?”  I confess to having often craved some permanence, yet at the same time, if I’m in any one place for a few years, I get the feeling it must be time to move again.

The following came last week from a friend who works in Chad.  She shared how she moves between 2 “homes” there, how she misses her U.S. family and home, especially during Holy Week and Easter, yet loves where she is and what she is doing.  It’s the gift and the burden of becoming a pilgrim and a stranger here on earth, accepting that this world will never be my real home.

“I assume you’re familiar with the concept of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? They’re written from the devils’ perspective, so the Enemy is God, but Screwtape has some keen insights into human behavior (though why the Enemy should expend so much effort on loving them is beyond anything he can fathom–the Enemy must have an ulterior motive though all of hell has not been able to figure it out. We of course know that behind God’s love for us is only more and more love and delight and joy.)

Screwtape to Wormwood, his nephew:

‘The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them . . . But since He does not wish them to make change . . . an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. . . .  [But permanence poses a danger that the devils can exploit]: Prosperity binds a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him . . .  a sense of being really at home on Earth . . . The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else.’ “

Bloggers note: Although I’ve thought a great deal about place, home and identity I have never viewed the change and permanence tension that Screwtape describes as an “effective guard”  against accepting life here as the ultimate goal, the final home.   As one reader put it “It’s being willing to live with a certain level of tension throughout life” – this tension of living on earth but being destined for eternity; of making life on earth count while at the same time recognizing it is not the final authority. While being a third culture kid may make me more aware of this tension and aware of how impermanent life on earth is, it goes beyond this Third Culture Kid identity and speaks to the heart of my faith. As Sophie says it’s about learning to glory in “chameleonicity”

What do you think of the tension between change and permanence? Weigh in through the comments. 

6 thoughts on “Change and Permanence – Living Within the Tension

  1. Interesting! I had never noticed that particular bit in the “Screwtape Letters”, though I have often thought that understanding what it means to be “aliens and strangers” in this world would be even harder had I never left my home. I wonder as well if some of the tension in us comes from having been created for a place of permanence, and also heading for a place of permanence but currently living in a place that is neither of those two. A temporary home. It creates a restlessness and a longing us. Maybe in some ways this is most keenly felt by those leading somewhat nomadic lives!
    Oh, and I LOVE the word “chameleonicity” ;-)

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  2. Marilyn, I like your mom’s reply. I’ve been sitting here thinking and the song, “Little Pilgrim” (Chuck Giraud) keeps running through my mind, “Little pilgrim walkin’ down the road of life, I know that deep down inside, that you are just like me….” I think we all experience that restlessness, not belonging, and all those emotions at one time or another. Recently I began to post “houses we’ve lived in” on FB and in doing so I remembered so much of life spent in those places. We owned none of them and they were always temporary. Nevertheless, as physical dwelling places they provided oasises and security. We learned a little more about life each time we had to pack up, move, and settle down in a new place. For me home is not just a physical place. Home is where the heart is. Perhaps since this world is not our home we’ll all be restless until we reach our eternal one. The journey continues. And as Beverly Shea used to sing, “Until then, I’ll go on singing.”

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  3. Am I allowed to comment on a guest blog that I wrote? I love what Sophie wrote. I don’t suppose you remember me, Sophie. You were much younger than our kids. I remember you as being the cutest little girl. I don’t know what year, or how old you were, but you were just so tiny, with such a big personality.
    What you wrote about adaptability being such a gift, is so true. Many years ago as I agonized and prayed for our children, I realized that if these global nomads could learn to accept their lives and themselves, they would have the great gift of being able to understand and be comfortable just about any place. You are living proof of that. Give my love to your Mum and Dad.

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