“We Knew we Wouldn’t Stay”

Old city quote“For most of us, being raised as foreigners meant our stay in [insert country] was free of permanence. For some, a temporary stay meant a year or two; for others, time dragged on indefinitely, but always, always, the time would come to say goodbye. Our parents may have chosen to remain, but we would leave. We were raised to be different, we were raised knowing we wouldn’t stay, knowing that as soon as we finished school we would leave and probably not come back. And for children in my family, American citizens, the place we would go would be the United States.” From Nina Sichel in Unrooted Childhoods

We knew we wouldn’t stay. 

When we were in our passport countries we thought we belonged to our adopted countries; but when we returned to the countries we called home, we and they had both changed. For the first time we realized that we needed a reason to go back. In the words of my daughter, Annie “I belonged to Pakistan and Egypt, but Pakistan and Egypt did not belong to me.”

That realization alone brought on a crisis.

Who else needs to have a reason to go ‘home’? Isn’t one of the definitions of home the place that was supposed to take you in when no one else would? Others don’t need excuses to go home, but we did. Perhaps this is when the realization hits us that we belong everywhere and nowhere.

And then there’s the problem of how to articulate this. How do we explain this phenomenon to others? We knew we wouldn’t stay. We knew we didn’t belong — not really.

The words from Unrooted Childhoods were poignant reminders to me that from the beginning, I knew this. From the time I was a little girl to the day I graduated, bags packed and ready, I knew that my time in Pakistan would ultimately come to an end.

When you’re raised in a community that believes this world is not our home, that we are just passing through it, you cast aside the poignant loss. Everything is impermanent anyway, some of us just have to learn it earlier than others. And all that is true – but the impermanence sometimes catches up with you, and you find yourself grieving, not even knowing why.

If we are limited on this earth to place, is it reasonable to assume we will grieve its absence? We get glimpses of the eternal, we know it is placed in our hearts, yet it often feels out of reach, far removed from daily life.

The incarnation was about God being limited to place and time, being limited to and by the human experience. During those 33 years on earth, he was a part of a community, he was defined by place. We read the words of scripture and hear that he is from Nazareth – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” While he was on this earth, he laughed and cried; prayed and partied. He had compassion and he voiced anger. He was fully present, even as he looked to something infinitely greater.  He knew eternity, and yet he limited himself to that which was finite.

He was a third culture kid. And he knew he would go back home. Yet his back home was the one where he really belonged, and the one where we really belong. It’s the one where all of life will make sense. Where every day will be better than the day before and talk of loss of place will not exist. We will be home at last.

Until then, while there is no place where I will feel fully at home, there are many places where I feel partially at home. And I intend to explore and live in as many of them as possible.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11

13 thoughts on ““We Knew we Wouldn’t Stay”

  1. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 As an MK who lived 20+ years in one city and now 15 in another, I can say that contentment with the place God has us in is more difficult at some times than others. But the older I get the more I realize that all the Christians I know feel “not at home” at times, and this feeling intensifies and comes more frequently the more our society rejects Christian mores.


  2. As an adult MK, I have lived in the same place now for 22 years. I have now lived way more of my life in my passport country, and yet I still don’t feel like it’s “home.” So I think, as TCKs, we will always feel displaced no matter how long we live somewhere. You are right that it does make us long for an eternal home where we will someday enter and say: “This is home. This is where I belong.” You are also right that we need to not spend our time grieving that lack of belonging, but enjoy the places and the people God has put into our lives, at each given location. It’s hard feeling like an outsider, to not feel like we belong, but in our world, there are many in the same boat, and we can have special empathy for refugees, immigrants and Internationals whom God brings into our lives and homes.


  3. The funny thing …as an adult I really thought I would stay. I knew I’d say goodbye to my childhood country, Pakistan. I’d watched countless older kids do that. They never came back. But my adult other country, India, there I thought we’d stay. I was wrong. It still sometimes makes me sad.


    1. That’s exactly what I thought about Egypt. I never thought I’d leave. I’d grow old and die there….So get this Robynn. Yet another thing to add to our list to talk about.


  4. I don’t know that I knew it was temporary at the time. But I was 7 1/2 – 10 years old. I knew I was different – the other kids made fun of the way I said CAT. (They said KYAT). As far as I know, the only reason we left was so my parents could get divorced. My mom went back and stayed several years.


  5. Marilyn this got me thinking again about life and the choices we make in how we want to live. I wonder how the nomads of this world feel. Picking up their tents, yurts or gers, and driving their animals to greener pastures to where they settle temporarily. Setting up the tent/yurt, building a fire, heating water for tea, sleeping under the stars; do they feel at home? What really breaks my heart is the life of refugees the world over who don’t even have a country to call home. What do they call the squalor they live in? We have all that we need to make our moving about from one country/place to another so easy. Choice, identity (passports), immediate communication, and abundant material blessings to name a few. Why are we so restless? Is it just a western concept to have this insatiable need for a permanent place called home? What did Paul mean when he wrote, “..for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Was he speaking to our human longings, heartaches, grief, dislocation, and unfulfilled dreams? We are on a pilgrimage, aren’t we?


    1. Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment. I’d like to sit together over tea and discuss. I don’t think everybody does feel restless. I work with people every day who don’t. They are really content and happy, not restless. And so that adds even more discomfort – where I really think I’m crazy. Does the insatiable need, as you so eloquently put, come because we have had so much? I love the question you pose, and it challenges me in the best of ways. Keeping my mind open to possibility, even as I daily live in contentment. Thanks again. Time for another visit to the Addletons.


  6. “Until then, while there is no place where I will feel fully at home, there are many places where I feel partially at home. And I intend to explore and live in as many of them as possible.”
    Being intentional to explore and live fully – that’s a good goal to have.
    Thanks for this Marilyn.


    1. It really hit me as I was writing it, that this is the way some of us were made – to explore and yet live fully wherever we are. Thank you so much for reading and getting it.


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