There are a lot of areas of nearly-constant tension military families endure.
(Yes, I know ALL families endure tension as a normal part of life, but we get some extra layers baked in as a result of our commitment to serve our nation. Please bear with me.)
There’s the tension of never knowing where “home” actually is. Is it at your current duty station? Where your extended family lives? Or in tiny pieces at many of the other places you have held an address? Each of these places? None of these places? Is it even a place at all or more about the people?
There’s the tension of walking a tightrope balancing act in your marriage. You want to be a team, yet so often you are left rowing the boat alone when duty calls. You are continually figuring out roles, responsibilities, and your relationship. There’s constant expectation management. Who is in charge here? One of us? Both of us? Neither of us?
There’s the tension of figuring out the difference between what you do and who you are and where, if at all, that line of separation is. Does your identity come through your family? Your faith? Your profession? Your volunteering? Your friendships? Is what you do who you are? Are you what you do? (Gah.)
There’s the tension of wondering if the choices your family is making are likely causing lifelong irreparable harm to your children or if this life is engendering fantastic, resilient, and mighty young people. The constant moves, the uprooting, the transitory friendships, the feelings. Oh the feelings!
There’s tension everywhere we look. Just when we think we get these things finally sorted out: home, marriage dynamics, identity, kids– everything changes again with the signal of a move to a new location with new variables to shake things up. #alwaysanadventure
I’ve recently been reminded of another huge area of tension that we face in this lifestyle.
It’s the tension of holding a long goodbye to a familiar place and its people with the anticipation and excitement of going to the unknown new place and its people.
This week we got our confirmation of RFO (Request for Orders–Army speak for the official paperwork that says when and where you’re moving).
This go ’round with orders, there has been much confusion and a lack of predictable communication. Many people we know had their original plans change at the last minute unbeknownst to them.
Due to a system failure, our own timeline for moving was shifted by about six months. It’s been almost a year (a YEAR!!!) of talk, of questions, of rumors…of TENSION wondering what this next step in our lives would look like. Trust me, living in that kind of limbo takes its toll on your mind, body, and spirit.
It’s been a veritable cornucopia of emotions. Joy. Tears. Mostly there has been an enormous sense of relief. I’ve let out audible sighs and raised my hands in praise. I have exhaled deeply, relieved excess energy on an elliptical machine, and maybe eaten my feelings with a homemade Rice Crispy treat or three.
There has been a physical response to all of the worry and waiting I’ve been holding in. As someone who lives in a perpetual state of fight or flight due to the constant need to feel prepared for anything–at all times–I equate this relief–of finally having confirmation from someone we don’t know personally tell us the actual location of where we will be living our life–to the biological need for adrenaline to leave your body after you’ve escaped or outrun a black bear. #amygdalahijack #funtimes
Now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag about our next assignment, I have almost instantly felt myself holding both the joy and anticipation of what lies ahead while also holding the fullness and sadness of what we are about to leave behind.
To be honest, I’m kind of a mess on the inside.
Tension is defined as the act of straining or stretching and that is exactly what my emotions feel like in this moment. I’ve felt this tension in the waiting. I’ve felt it in the relief. I’m feeling it in the expectation.
I’ve been responding to welcome messages from new and old friends who will be waiting to meet us at our next stop. I’ve already got feelers out about houses, neighborhoods, schools, friends, ministry opportunities, and job leads.
I’m also dreading telling some very dear people goodbye in a few months. I already know we will say the “see you laters,” but in all likelihood we won’t actually see many of these friends later.
Sure, we will stay somewhat connected through social media, text messages, or phone calls. But I know the reality is that these people who have literally been like our family in a difficult place will soon fade away into their next assignments, with their next houses, neighborhoods, schools, friends, ministries, and jobs.
The communication will slow down between us and soon we will only be liking and commenting on the occasional Facebook post or connecting a friend of a friend to a friend. That’s just the way this works. I’ve been around long enough to know.
Personally, I don’t feel built for this kind of tension– for this kind of life. The amount of stretching and straining that it continues to require of me frequently renders me wondering how much I have left in me to keep repeating this cycle. It showcases and puts on display my own restlessness and anxiety.
I struggle with a deep sense of longing, but so often I can’t even put my finger on what it is I’m longing for. Do I want to stay here forever? (Absolutely not). Am I ready to go? (Yes.) Am I sad to leave? (Certainly.) Will the next place feel like home? (Not totally.)
It’s bewildering to not know where it is, exactly, that you actually belong.
Maybe it’s just me with my innate-Enneagram-sixness–my need for security and stability–in constant pursuit of connection, relationship, and establishment. Maybe it’s all of us.
This living in the tension of the already and the not yet is not, however, something specific to military life. This is a concept that is familiar in God’s “in-between” kingdom. As Christians, we live in the present age–the now, while we await the age to come. I’ve quoted C.S. Lewis and his magnum opus Mere Christianity here many times, but this much is true:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
So as we head off to our next adventure and close out one chapter and begin another, I want to do so with a few reminders to myself (!!!!!) and for you too, if you need it and this applies. So say it with me:
- I am made for another world– one that I won’t meet until my life on this earth ends. No place, or home, or pursuit will ever totally, wholly satisfy. It’s not the job of a place, a home, or a pursuit to do this. This comfort comes only from knowing and trusting in God; a process I am forever seeking and surrendering to.
- I am already tired and weary from the toll of waiting on the Army to tell us where we will be living. I do not wish to compound that tiredness with the tension of walking away from a very full life in one location, while simultaneously building a new life from the ground up in the next place. I will have to recover from relocating.
- I will need to allow myself some breathing room–some grieving room–some growing room. New homes, new friends, and new opportunities are all good things and some of life’s best blessings. I know they await me on the other side, just as they did when I arrived here. For now, I will just continue to give myself grace as I wade through the tension of the already and the not yet.
“…but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)