When my husband floated the idea of moving to Edinburgh to do a PhD my first response was not wildly enthusiastic. I quickly marshalled several arguments very much in favour of our family staying right where we were. In the spirit of fairness I could see that there might be a few positives; it was just that I thought these would be swamped by the difficulties.
I was right that the hard things were hard. My husband is a minister and the pressure of keeping this decision quiet for months made it hard to feel genuine and honest in important relationships. The months-long process of packing, shipping, storing, selling and giving away possessions kept me awake many nights. It was sad to say goodbye to family and friends and a very special church family. The sheer thought-load exhausted me. By the grace of God and with thankfulness to him (and a cast of thousands) we got through the hard times and haven’t looked back. Circumstances will differ for everyone, but I am thankful to have been wrong and to see that the positives have far outweighed the difficulties.
#1 – Major de-cluttering
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also. (Matt 6.19-21)
I imagine that most people are familiar with the therapeutic value and virtuous feelings that accompany a good de-clutter. Moving overseas for a few years requires a de-clutter of epic proportions. Prior to this move, not one person in our family would have said their possessions were their treasure, but I’m not sure that our general tendency to accumulate things—and our struggle to separate ourselves from these things—testified to this truth. I think that giving things up and giving things away helped us see this more clearly.
Although we are still fabulously wealthy by world standards, we now own relatively little. Boarding a plane with just suitcases and carry-on luggage was freeing. Even the fourteen boxes waiting for us on the docks at Leith didn’t weigh me down because I knew they contained only what we needed and what was especially important to us (bedding, Christmas decorations, Lego, plastic swords, coffee grinder and special photos)—and, even among these pared-back possessions, there are things we could manage without. Now we don’t just know in theory that we can live perfectly happily with less stuff—we know because we have experienced it.
#2 – New friends and new experiences
Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15.7)
It can be tempting, when you are settled in one place, to just stick with the same circle of friends. There is no real need to seek new friendships and it takes effort to go outside your comfort zone. When you are a newcomer, you realise how important it is for people to be willing to open up their established friendship circles and include others. In a church context it is a matter of godliness that we be ready to include newcomers. When people at our new church and schools made a point of speaking with us, inviting us over, asking us to join a sporting team it was great! It was such an encouragement to be warmly welcomed and, now that we are not so new, it gives us extra incentive to do the same for others.
I was worried about how our kids would go, leaving behind everything that was familiar. It seemed like a lot to ask of little people. We prayed a simple prayer with them, asking God to help them make new friends and to feel happy at school. God answered this prayer from the first day and we saw direct answers to our prayers. We also prayed that even when we were feeling sad and missing home that God would help us to enjoy things that are enjoyable. As parents we have had the delight of seeing our kids thrive above and beyond what they did in Sydney. They have grown in confidence and willingness to try new things and we have all embraced the opportunities that are peculiar to living in the UK (large libraries and stimulating university seminars, school skiing lessons, Legoland, plenty of “hands-on” history, Van Morrison concerts and half days at school every Friday). None of these would have been possible had we stayed in Australia and we appreciate them all the more for that reason.
It is occasionally on my mind that we will have to ask this of them again when we move back home. Again it will be hard and it may not go as smoothly as it has this time, but we know from our current experience that God is faithful and we can trust him to go ahead of us.
#3 – We are closer to each other and more aware of God at work in our everyday.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5.7)
Although most of our relocation discussions probably weren’t fantastic models of communication or active listening, we needed to actually have meaningful conversations about significant things – the grief of saying goodbyes, the desire to stay in our comfort zones, the worry of what it would be like in cold, dark Scotland not knowing anyone. Scotland was cold and dark, but far from not knowing anyone, we had each other and found that we quite enjoyed the time with just our family. We had underestimated how much pleasure our children have in each other’s company (and ours).
Seeing God answer our prayers so abundantly helps us to bring more to him in prayer and has given our kids a sense of gratitude and happiness as well as helping them to trust God with their troubles and requests. We pray that this is a pattern they will continue in as they grow older and face bigger challenges.