A monstrosity of a backpack. It was huge. Like the freshmen in high school who managed to fit their entire locker in their backpack. This was bigger. If I turned around too quickly I could knock someone over. And let’s just say I wasn’t very fond of the Turtle Shell; just ask my friends.
Five years ago I was gallivanting through Europe with the Turtle Shell (very subtle American of me). I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Austria (yes, the stunning picture above was my home for four months. I know, I was spoiled) and travel to many countries throughout the semester. While I was backpacking my way through Europe, the Turtle Shell quite literally had my back the whole time. Everywhere I traveled, the Turtle Shell came too. I fit all my belongings into a single backpack. That was an adventure in itself.
The night leading up to a trip always made for an interesting time. All those pictures on Pinterest of backpackers on top of mountains overlooking some incredible landscape have backpacks big enough to fit a pair of socks. So unrealistic. And overpacking while backpacking just doesn’t really happen. You can only bring the necessities, and even then your bag was still bulging at the seams. I had to do the whole sitting-on-my-bag-just-to-zip-it-shut thing. The longer trips were always the hardest to pack for. Twice over the course of the semester we went on 10 day trips. One of those 10 day trips turned into a 13 day trip. Everything for 13 days, stuffed into a travel backpack. Every time I slung it over my shoulder I wondered how long I could have gotten away with wearing the same outfit.
There’s just something about backpacking through a foreign country: the sense of adventure and the unknown. It’s exhilarating. We had the unique opportunity to travel to a different country almost every weekend. There is this sense of humility being in a country you’ve never been before, surrounded by a culture you’ve never encountered, trying to speak a language you never even knew existed. But I realized my place (as an ignorant American). These places were not my home. I was a young college student merely passing through.
Resting my head every weekend across a different border, this feeling of unsettlement clung to me.
I miss Europe. A lot. Although I may not be trekking through Europe at present, that feeling of unsettlement was familiar in the suburbs of Minnesota. Two years ago, serving as a missionary with NET, I did not have a permanent residence. I moved to a different host family every two weeks, and for the duration of the year I was allowed one suitcase. Nine months, one suitcase. My suitcase, along with a backpack, sleeping bag, and pillow, were the extent of my belongings. And I thought packing for trips in Europe was difficult.
Moving house to house with few belongings each week, this unsettlement resurfaced as a striking and tangible reminder.
This world is temporary.
This is one of those themes the Lord tends to throw my way in prayer to remind me of important things I often lose sight of. And here I was faced with this truth in a very real way. I couldn’t help but draw a parallel. Now, don’t get me wrong, these houses I stayed in were amazing and I’m so grateful for them, but there is something about sleeping in a different bed or couch every other week that is unsettling. Don’t get too comfortable because you’re off to the new house before you know it. And the same rings true for us on this earth. Don’t get too comfortable. We’re not staying forever.
Unsettlement. If I’m being honest, I prefer feeling settled and content. But that’s just it. I can’t feel settled in a world that I wasn’t made for. A whale living in a tank won’t feel completely “free” or “fulfilled” because it wasn’t intended or created to live there. I’m supposed to feel that unsettlement in my deepest being because we are not meant for this world. And that unsettlement is a constant reminder that we are created for another world. It points us to heaven.
I am unsatisfied in this world. My insatiable thirst for complete fulfillment will not come here on earth. And sometimes it takes one, two, or fifty reminders to get that through my thick head. I will always desire more here of whatever temporarily gives me happiness or fulfillment. More friendships, material goods, relationships, success, sneakers, Chick-fil-a, Instagram follows; the list goes on. It’s never enough. And I’m supposed to desire more. Because it makes me, and you, long for Christ. It makes us long for heaven. HE is the only one who can ultimately fulfill us. Heaven is where that happens fully, the place where we are in complete union with Him, the only place we will be truly fulfilled.
But this wasn’t the original plan. Plan A was for us to live in constant communion with Christ (Eden). But humans kind of messed things up and we came to live in a “temporary” world of sin and evil, with the goal one day to reach heaven. In our small human understanding, it’s hard for us to imagine this life being temporary because this is all we know. It’s even harder for us to understand something we, or anyone else around us, hasn’t experienced (heaven). As Christians we believe in an afterlife. But how soon I forget that and prevent that truth from influencing my life on earth. It is important to be reminded of this truth.
We are here on earth, merely passing through.
And this changes things. It puts life into perspective. I am reminded to make the most of my time here on this earth. I am reminded to not get too comfortable here, to not put too much value into the things of this world (even if J. Crew is having a sale #weakness). These things will pass away. I can’t take them with me. I am reminded of my life’s goal and to push myself to work toward it. Heaven is offered but not guaranteed. Just as an athlete trains in order to become a top competitor, I have to put in my work with the Lord and allow Him to work in me as well. It would be prideful for me to think I can get to heaven merely on my own merit, BUT my effort is necessary, just as necessary as Christ’s help. Lastly, I have hope. Hope knowing there is life after death. And not just any life, a life far beyond what we could ever imagine. That’s what the cross signifies. Victory over death. Living with that truth transforms this temporary life. It transforms death into eternal life.
So whether I’m trekking through Europe, couchsurfing as a missionary, or just in the day to day grind, I pray I can embrace the unsettlement of this world, seeing the gift it is to be reminded of my eternal goal.
Let’s rejoice in the resurrection friends and I hope and pray we can celebrate together there someday.
“If we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless situations, what does that suggest? It suggests that we have not always been, or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it – how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We are not adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.” – Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
Written by Michele Volk, NET Mission Staff