Today, day 2 of our advice series, we’re answering my friend Mandy’s question:
I was wondering if you have any advice for moving away from family, friends, and basically everything you've ever known. [My husband] has been offered a job all the way across the country. We've prayed for years for a different opportunity, but now that it's here, it is scary! … I know you've done the whole moving thing so I thought I would ask for any insight there.
I have done the whole moving thing. So many times. I moved 17 hours away from my one-and-only home (coastal Florida) to go to college in Tennessee. My husband and I moved to Alabama, to the middle of a field, for our first job in ministry. After four years there we moved to Brooklyn, NY, selling all of our stuff, including our car. A year later we moved to a small town in TN and three years after that we moved to the Austin, TX area with two kids under three.
They say a move is one of the five most stressful things any human can experience, right up there with the death of a loved one, divorce and getting cancer.
A move is hard, but there are ways to make it easier. Here’s my list:
1. Remember God moves with you.
To be more accurate, God’s everywhere, so God’s where you’re moving and where you’re leaving. That matters because home is where God is; therefore, anywhere can be home. Be sure to look for Him wherever you end up. Even in the transition, lean hard into Bible study and prayer.
2. Find a church. Quick.
Way too many people take way too long to get plugged into a church. My advice is to plug in ASAP. Research churches before you move. Identify five or fewer you’d like to visit. Visit all of them in the first month, and make a choice. Don’t sweat the choice too much. No church is perfect and just about every church has the potential to bless your family, each in a unique way. Ask yourself, Do these people love, respect and serve the God I believe in? and Could I belong here?
Yes and Yes? Place membership. Quick.
I emphasize quickly because, as we’ve said, moves are stressful and in those seasons of stress we can be most tempted to walk away from God, to isolate ourselves, or to give in to plaguing temptations. You need a family and stability during seasons like that. What a blessing to know wherever you go, you have family waiting to receive you.
Once you do place membership (or commit to belong), I’d suggest you have a meal with an elder, staff member, deacon, secretary--anyone with a finger on the pulse of the congregation. Figure out how you can get involved in the work of the church and share your gifting and passions with someone who could help you put them to work. (You’ll probably have to initiate this yourself.)
3. Make friends actively and intentionally.
If you’ve lived in the same place for a long time, it’s likely your making-friends skills are rusty. Here are three ways I’ve found to make friends quickly and permanently:
Ask people to dinner.
Welcoming someone into your home is an act of vulnerability and grace. When people are invited (something that happens so rarely these days) they feel noticed, chosen and loved. Hospitality is a gift. And people love gifts. So yes, I’m suggesting you bribe people to be your friends.
Ask people to help you.
Again with the vulnerability--I’m telling you, it’s glue. Be willing to be weak around others and they’ll immediately feel closer to you. That means, yes, let the church help unload boxes. It means, yes, invite your neighbor in to help you unpack dishes. It means, yes, ask questions about schools and restaurants and primary care physicians. When people help you they feel needed and when people feel needed they become friends.
You guys, I stalk the prayer list at my church. I can’t respond to every need but I’m keenly aware that helping a person draws us together. And so, if I can, I don’t miss opportunities to serve people I want to grow closer to. That means a conversation over coffee, taking food during a difficult time, offering my couch up to someone displaced, giving money, writing a card… These acts are important because they meet a need. AND they’re the glue that binds me to the people I love (and want to love). I know it seems weird to step in and offer help having just moved to a new place, but it’s not. People want help wherever they can find it.
I’m convinced, those three steps are the magic sauce of friendship.
3A. Make friends with people in different age categories.
You’re leaving parents, mentors, peers, nieces, people who taught you in Bible class as a kid… You’ll need to “replace” those people with a diverse set of friends. Don’t just meet people your age. Figure out ways to connect to with people all over the age spectrum (might I suggest ladies Bible class?).
4. Be a tourist for a couple months.
See all the fun parts of where you live. Go to festivals, library story times, farmer’s markets, local swimming holes. Sell yourself on the city’s charms. Eventually you won’t do this anymore because you’ll fill your weekends with church stuff, kids’ activities and time with friends. But for now you have no friends, so fill the empty spaces with fun and beauty and things that make you happy to be where you are.
5. Find replacements for your favorite things.
Because habits can be torture to break, why not replace (or enable) some of your habitual behaviors? How did you spend your time where you lived before? Try to do similar things. Find a restaurant like your old favorite restaurant, a coffee place, a basketball court nearby, a good gym, a familiar grocery store. Order things you can’t find--a favorite barbeque sauce, a brand of tea--online and have them delivered. This is not the time to go cold turkey.
6. Teach yourself how to get around.
The quicker you acquaint yourself with your surroundings the less out of place you'll feel. There’s nothing more likely to stress you out and make you feel homesick than getting lost. Instead of using your phone to get everywhere, look at a full-city map and take in the big picture. Figure out which roads are the big roads, where the main shopping areas are, etc. And then drive the roads. A lot. With no purpose but getting to know your new home.
7. Make a regular, recurring Skype date with people you love (especially grandparents).
This shows people back home that you really do love them and you didn’t leave to get away from them. :) Too, it makes a priority out what you want to do (and need to do for your sanity), but might get distracted from doing. When my mom and I don’t schedule our calls we end up calling at inconvenient times, missing each other and, honestly, getting a little fussy. But when we make plans, the calls happen and everyone is happy.
8. Don’t go home in the first year.
I know you won’t like this advice. Nobody likes this advice. But I think it’s important. You will be too sad. You haven’t made great friends yet. You don’t feel settled yet. You will inevitably want to go home forever when you visit. So don’t visit. Not yet. Get invested in your new place first.
And that's the list. What would you add? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know in the comments.