Staying when it’s hard

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”  So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” – Luke 8:38-39

Return home…”

The above quote comes at the end of a story that describes Jesus’ rescue of a man who had been possessed by demons.  The man had neither worn clothes nor lived in a house in some time.  Instead, he had resided in tombs.  This unfortunate soul was chained and kept under guard, but had broken his chains many times.

A man who runs around naked, breaks chains, and lives in a graveyard…  It’s no wonder the townspeople who knew him were afraid when they saw him clothed, “in his right mind,” and sitting at Jesus’ feet!

Following his radical transformation, it comes as no surprise that the man wanted to literally follow Jesus.  I imagine that he would have experienced considerable prejudice at the hands of people who knew him as “the demon-possessed guy who lives in the tombs.”  He begged to be taken along when Jesus left the region.  However, Jesus told him to stay…

“Staying” often sucks.

There’s something attractive about leaving one’s current circumstances to follow God somewhere else.  There are times when God calls people to leave, and the prospect of a fresh start can be exhilarating.  “Getting out” may indeed be the best course of action in cases of abuse or danger.  However, God also calls people to stay.

Sometimes “staying home” means sticking it out in an imperfect church.  Sometimes it means staying in a job with a boss that infuriates or annoys.  Maybe it means remaining in a relationship with someone who has changed dramatically from the person you once knew.

To be frank, I write these words not as someone who responds obediently to God’s call to stay, but rather as someone who has often struggled with knowing how to deal with the brokenness that is present in my own circumstances and relationships. 

I find it much easier to hope and pray that God will show me a way out of situations than I do to trust that He is able to redeem the ones I am already in. 

Staying where you are can be incredibly frustrating.  At home is where we are most aware of the brokenness around us.  It is where we’ve spent years praying for family, friends, and situations that show no discernible signs of change.  It is also where others are most aware of our own brokenness, of how we’ve hurt them, and how selfish we can still be, despite the process of being made like Christ.

But, like the demon-possessed man, we can find hope in Jesus.  We can do this because, if we follow Christ, then we know of the “demons” he has sent out of us in our own journey, whatever they may be. 

To stay or to go?

We don’t always have the clarity of Jesus’ instructions to the demon-possessed man.  So how can we discern when we ought to “stay?”

We can look to His word, and be challenged by stories of His people throughout history who have wrestled with honouring God where they are, be it in slavery, exile, or prosperity.

We can look to the church, and find strength in the encouragement, community, and prayers of our brothers and sisters, many of whom are also struggling to know what it looks like to “stay.”

We can trust that the God who became human, “staying” with his creation in all of its messiness and violence, is intimately aware of the challenges we may find in the places he wants us to remain. 

We can look to the cross, and be reminded of the fact that sacrificial love is God’s way of dealing with the brokenness of the world. 

May God grant you the wisdom to know whether you ought to stay or go, and the strength to act on that conviction.