The Guilt of Stability

stability with quote

We have lived longer in the condo where we’re currently living than any other place we’ve ever lived. This hit me recently. Hard.

“No wonder I feel restless!” I said to someone who would listen. “I’ve never worked at a job as long as I have this one, I’ve never gone so long without rearranging the furniture, without looking at places to move”

But I don’t only feel restless — I feel almost guilty that we’re ‘stable’. It caught me like a steel trap, vice-like in its intensity. I felt guilty for being stable, for not having tickets purchased, a move on the calendar. I felt the guilt of stability.

Because too often I make the third culture kid mistake of equating stability with stagnancy. If I am stable it must mean my life is unexciting, boring. If I am stable I must be doing something wrong. If I buy a house then I am settling for mediocrity. If I suddenly realize that I am content, that I no longer struggle with TCK envy then something is out of place.

When your identity is semi-rooted in movement, then you face a crisis when you stay put, when you plant roots, when you’re ‘stable.’

But stagnancy and stability are not the same thing.

I know people who have lived their entire lives in the same town but are not stagnant. Their lives are vibrant and full — they are part of their communities and give of what they have, both physically and emotionally. They use their rootedness to help others root.

I know others who have traveled the world — yet in a sense are stagnant. They live for self and self-indulgence. Their pictures are of exotic places and more exotic drinks. Yet I don’t see them using what they have to give, to help others.

Stability – strong, secure, safe, steady, firm. Those are adjectives with substance. They mean something. They are foundational to living well. Stability can be present in a life of movement or in a life where you are rooted in one place. Stability is not about where you live, it’s about how you live.

I don’t know what this next year will hold — will there be a move on the horizon and will our seven years in the same place end? Or will we continue to live here, seeking to be rooted and stable but not stagnant.

What about you? Have you been rooted for a long time or are you newly planted somewhere? Would love to hear from you through the comments! 

Photo credit: word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

16 thoughts on “The Guilt of Stability

  1. So many thoughts run through my mind about stability on a daily basis. For the outside world, my life looks like a hodgepodge of fabulous travel. Sometimes it worries me because it’s an image that can illicit jealousy or a wanderer that’s lost her way. As a ATCK, I want to understand the world. Why are some people able to go through life fully in one place without a curiosity for the world? Why are some so concerned with capitalist gain? Why are others so engrossed in saving the world? Etc.


  2. I’m always on the move it seems. Although, I have committed to serve in one particular country for the next few years… During that time of service, I still have the opportunity to go to new nations. I loved this blog post. It resonates with me. I am stable, not stagnant. Whether I’m hopping on airplanes or resting in the comfort of my own bed, I am stable because I’m growing. I am safe because I’m with God… doesn’t matter where I am on the map. My roots have been planted here in Mexico for now, but these branches are getting bigger and bigger, covering every continent with their shade. That’s how I live & I sense stability.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This really resonated with me. The longest I have lived anywhere as an adult is 4 years. While reading your post though I realized I practice “serial stability” :) We may know that we are only living there for a few years but while I’m there I put down roots. Sometimes we’ve bought a house, we always get involved in the kids school, join sporting clubs, volunteer in the community. It makes it harder to leave but makes the experience enjoyable. I loved reading about the distinction between stability and being stagnant though, particularly as we are preparing for my husband to transition out of the military after 25 years (and both worried we will become stagnant!).


  4. Thank you, Marilyn, for this beautiful post. To lead our kind of life, one has to be comfortable with the discomfort of a permanent state of transition, of everything being temporary. While I do have the nomadic “bug” in me, I also cherish the ability to become rooted in home. You are right, it’s not about where we live but how we live, but sometimes it happens that the two fit together so beautifully in the big picture of what we want from life, that the “where” sticks with us. So I could do without moving for a while without becoming restless, though I could not do without the ability to “escape” (travel) on a regular basis. Having children has also made a huge difference. While I want them to experience the world, I also want them to develop a sense of attachment and feel grounded, so that makes me aim for “transition periods” that are long enough not to feel…transitional. Besides, I’m not keen on repeating the enterprise of moving house with three kids too often :)


  5. When your identity is semi-rooted in movement, then you face a crisis when you stay put, when you plant roots, when you’re ‘stable.’ At one point in my life I had moved from state-to-state nine times in fourteen years just being an executive’s wife, and then his divorcd wife. Looking bavk, that itch, that feeling of ‘knowing’ a move is pending, pointed to my failure to live today in my true identity as a blood-bought child of the risen king. It came from my hesitancy to lay it all down and live big and love bigger because today is all I have? My dream, my heartfelt longing for stability ismy fleshly desire to make this sinful world an ok, safe place to be. I wish I had learned that particular lesson of the packing boxes better.


  6. I had this exact reaction this past year realizing we’d lived in this city longer than any other place. I have been restless since about year 2. Yet, I am trying to learn to be still and wait. In the meantime, I’m investing in the “peripheral” relationships….those types of friends and acquaintances that you lose when you move. The favourite waitress at the coffee shop. The great pharmacist. The other moms on your kids sports teams. I feel like if we moved now, some of those relationships have moved from acquaintance to friendship and will be sustained if we move. If not, they’ve been valued while I’ve been here.


  7. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject. As we have lived 2 years now in the first house we’ve ever owned in our 30 years of marriage, and are enjoying fixing it up, I do sometimes have twinges of guilt. I also have to remind myself to hold it with an open hand, as the Lord may ask us to leave it behind and head off to another destination in the future. Trying to live in the present and invest ourselves in the corner where we are now….


  8. Just today I posted that the last few days have been stagnant for me. I am always searching for the adventure. I live for today and maybe for self, who knows? But I do know that I doubt I will ever find that stability that I yearn for when it comes to being in one place for long. Even involving myself in the community, I look over it’s shoulder to see what is behind them, or what is ahead… always searching because where I stand gets old really fast.


  9. I have been living in the US again for about 8 months. I keep checking airline ticket prices. I am anxious for another adventure. While at a retreat this weekend, I realized that I have far to go in being content with the church and community that I moved to in 2014. Your remarks make it clearer to me that I have to be patient, rest and wait on God.


  10. I remember making a “temporary” move that turned into 9 years, the longest we’d ever lived in one place — and not just during our marriage but for both of us EVER. My husband was an MK, my mom was married multiple times, so neither of us had ever lived in one house for more than five years. But the entire 9 years we lived in that “temporary” place, I never truly felt at home. I never shed that “temporary” attitude and it affected how we lived.

    Perhaps in reaction to that, I intentionally tried to “put down roots” in the next place — which I also knew was temporary, but the reality of how long-term temporary could be had changed my outlook by then. I spent a lot of time making that house a home, and not just a place to live. This was both good and bad. I grew to love the feeling of walking in the front door, whether it was coming home from work or just a run to the grocery store. I’d created a welcoming space, not just for my family but for others, and that brought a lot of joy. We became part of a community, and that was tied up with the roots we were sinking deep into that place. But leaving it after ten years became a heart wrenchingly difficult task. I wasn’t sure I could do the same thing again. And again. And again. And I knew our life from that point on would involve a lot of moving.

    Because of the transient nature of our work, I have to decide how much I want to invest in each place we live. We now own a home (such as it is, all 395 square feet of it) and we’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make what was a ramshackle casita habitable, but if I’m honest, I have to admit I haven’t gone “all in”. I’ve had one foot out the door since we moved in. But recently God’s made it clear He wants us to stay right here for a while. How long, only He knows. But with this confirmation, I’m ready to pull that foot back in and simply enjoy this place as long as He keeps us here.


    1. I find what you have said very appropriate. I didn’t grow up as a TCK but we moved a LOT. I had finally found my favorite place and loved living there. My parents said that was the last move. We moved after only 2 years, a record. The place we moved to, we stayed in for 8 years. I never liked it and feel very little draw to the place even now, many years on. Since I finished college, I have moved all over. I’ve lived in various countries and countless houses. Now half of my life has been lived as a missionary, living in countries not “my own”.
      My husband, who grew up in the house his mother grew up in cannot understand me. I have found that once I leave a place I leave it entirely. I have no emotional attachment. I guess after that one move from the house I truly loved, I learned to keep my roots shallow.
      We own a small house in the small town I call home. I didn’t grow up there but if I could claim a hometown, that would be it. We still have never lived there more than a year at a time. I sometimes think I could live the rest of my life there but, like Marilyn, I’m afraid I would find myself growing stagnant. I live a paradox. I’ve always wanted roots but have always been afraid of putting them down, only to have them be torn up again.


      1. When I think of what I have written here just now, it sounds like I’m depressed or at the least sad. I actually like my life. I’m content to move around. As I get older, I find it harder to change but still enjoy the adventure. Our girls are all somewhat the same. They have only known moving often but they still like the adventure as well.


  11. This is so me, and I’m not even a TCK (I actually grew up in the same house my entire first 18 years). We’re coming up on our second anniversary of moving to this house, and it’s the longest we’ve lived anywhere in almost 9 years of marriage, including 2 overseas moves. I felt myself starting to get that itch around the 1.5 year mark. Thank you so much for writing this.


Add to the discussion...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s