restless wanderer syndrome.


I love autumn. I love the pumpkins and apples, the boots and scarves, the new Bon Iver album and old Death Cab for Cutie records that seem to always play in the background of my life. I love eating soup and reading when it’s an especially rainy day. I love hiking in the brief sunshine and running in the crisp air when it’s an especially bright October day.

But let’s be real: Fall is a transition season that makes you crave Home. All of the changing leaves and weather and even wardrobe make a person want to cling to something steady, which is hard when you’re living in transition yourself.

Like most people, I used to think home was a place – but I realized that you can live somewhere and not feel at home. So then I thought home was a feeling, one of being relaxed and safe – but this feeling frequently changed, depending on who I was with at the time. Then I thought home was with certain people, which is semi-true but as much as I want to I can’t hold onto people and claim them as home. And I think in the end I’ve landed on this: home is the space where you know those around you and can be known by them. Another word for this is ‘intimacy’. Whether it’s a place, a feeling, or people, home is an intimate space of being fully known. 

I’ve been extremely lucky to have two homes, each on one end of WA’s stretch of I-5, and now I’m currently living somewhere in between. When I lived in Bellingham, I missed the people who know and love me well back in Vancouver. And when I was in Vancouver, I missed my community in Bellingham. Now I’m in the process of building a new community, a new home, with new people – which is risky. It means letting people knowing all of the good and all of the bad, most of which I don’t want anyone to see. Far too often I run away from this out and I’m left retreating from the deep relationships God created us to have. Because if I am fully known, I risk not being enough.

Enter in a term I like to call Restless Wanderer Syndrome.

Restless Wanderer Syndrome (RWS) is this thing that happens when you look at your life and you’re always in pursuit of something better, usually based off of what someone else has. It’s a symptom of our culture’s deep evil of always thinking something better is out there, something that makes you feel more whole, complete, and enough. Humans have been struggling with RWS for years and if you don’t believe me, read the Old Testament of the Bible. There’s tons of stories of people who look at what God is doing in their neighbor’s life and then they decide that what God has for them sucks and they ditch that for what they think is better. In the end, these people somehow always end up lost in a desert to spend the rest of their days lonely and bumbling around until they come home to what God promised them years ago. RWS is the worst curse because you’re never quite home, and how sad is that?

Maybe you can connect to this nagging feeling of wanting home. We are privileged because we grew up in an era where we can call our people whenever we want, use WhatsApp/Skype/FaceTime to call my friends living overseas, see life updates via Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/_____ and text whoever you want without limit (who remembers the days of paying 10 cents per text am I right?!).

Technology is great, but it still doesn’t replace intimacy within your relationships. Relationships exist far beyond a double-tap on a picture or even separated by space and an iPhone. They happen when we strip down technology’s walls and show up. When we’re there, unfiltered and letting yourself be real and known by the people around you. I’m not saying technology is bad, I think it is a really wonderful thing, but I am saying that in order to create a home you can’t run away when it gets awkward, or leave if you find a cooler crew to hang out with, or even hide behind social media and say you’re in community with someone. To experience home you have to quit running. You have to be willing to personally show up and stay long enough to be seen, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

I’m learning that it’s okay to be frustrated with the process of building new community, especially in a new church. Sometimes it can feel like everyone has already been at this party and you showed up late, so now you have to look busy by getting a drink and pretending like you’re definitely supposed to be there even though the person who invited you isn’t there yet. No one likes being the new kid. No one looks forward to kicking it alone in the pews while everyone else sits down with their friends. For a large part of my life I’ve played an integral part of building community, so when I’m on the outside it feels strange. I always feel welcomed, but it’s almost a constant reminder that I don’t quite belong yet.

One of the reasons I love following Jesus is because he is a person who says everyone belongs. He didn’t wait for someone in the synagogue to say he was cool to start building community, he just did it because he knew that first and foremost he was in right relationship with God. Jesus flipped the script when it comes to dinner parties by eating with pimps, gang members, swindlers and prostitutes. He kicked it with folks that the religious people of his time deemed unworthy to be seen with. But God’s love doesn’t work like that. It is wild, unashamed, and proud to be seen with you – no matter who you are, what you look like or what you’ve done. God is just excited to BE with you in His house. You are more than enough because He created you.

“Enough is a staying word.” – Hannah Brencher.

Staying is growing my roots deep, even if it’s much easier to remain on the top soil. It’s a painful process to be vulnerable, open, honest, and raw, then to be ripped up and placed somewhere else where you have to grow through the process of knowing/being known all over again. Building genuine community is hard. It’s tiring and all I want is to stay, root, and be Home in one place forever. So I default to my RWS and I run. And then God gently reminds me, “Come Home. I see you. Be patient. You belong.”

So to all of the people doing the good, hard work of building a new community: remember that at the end of all your running, you were created by God to crave a place called Home. Risk vulnerability. Be brave in your relationships with others. Stay awhile.

Author: Emily Flanagan

I’m a homebody who is prone to wander and give unsolicited pep talks.

One thought on “restless wanderer syndrome.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s