Disclaimer: I am so guilty of the following, that I hope you see this not so much as a charge from a guiltless judge, but more of an inner-workings-out of what's going on in my heart right now.
It seems to me that there is a very peculiar inclination of the human heart. We have the tendency to allow place and our sense of home/belonging to rise up in our hearts to a seat of great prominence. We identify ourselves and others with where we are from - which, oddly, may not be where we are living currently. What's one of the first things we ask a new person, or tell someone we've just met - where we're from, where we live. It can be general - New Jersey; regional - North Jersey; or specific - county/town. It seems innocuous and just idle chatter, but why is that what we go for instead of other topics? Why do we care about where people are from?
It's not as if this is a modern phenomenon. All through the Bible, in fact, the general theme for much of it, people are searching for home. Thrown from the Garden of Eden, we are ever wanderers, looking for the place where we belong. We are aliens, not at home here on this earth, but always searching for a place to call our own despite that. Ruth got it right when she left Moab with Naomi because she knew Naomi was more a definition of home than Moab.
But what happens when we become so attached to where we were that we find ourselves unable to truly live where we are?
I am always quick to lament the loss of good food - bagels, pizza, Chinese food, and diners do not exist here. At least, not with the quality which I grew up accustomed to eating. (Though, thank the Lord, we have found a good pizza place in Lexington, so I know there may be hope yet.) (And that is not a sarcastic thanks be to God, it's genuine.) And not only food, but The City, the Adirondacks, the Shore. All things irreplaceable. All things I love dearly. All things that are wrapped up in my sense of self. Even things like weather and seasonal patterns of agriculture. Family and friends go without saying.
I become so busy lamenting what I've "lost", that I forget to find the joy in what I've gained. Comparison is the thief of joy, as Teddy so eloquently pointed out, and joy ought to be the desire of our hearts.
But it goes beyond robbing ourselves of joy. It's straight up disobedience. I find myself thinking of Jonah here. He was so determined to not go where God had appointed him to go, that he spent three days and nights in the belly of a great fish. His disobedience led to his suffering greatly. My disobedience and hardened heart has led to my suffering (needlessly, I'd add). By not trusting God that he has brought me to a good place, how my heart has suffered in the throes of self-inflicted sorrow, jealousy, anger, bitterness, and grumbling. When God led my husband to a job 800 miles away from where we were hoping to live, from where our families lived, I can tell you that I channeled my inner Jonah. I suppose it helped that we had no other job offer to persuade us one way or the other, our path was quite clear. But it didn't help. I still grumbled. I still do grumble. Jonah never did "get it" in the end, but I know there's hope for me yet.
The strangest part of this whole problem for me personally is that I am an Anthropology major. I love people and places. I love to travel. My heart has yearned for nearly 20 years to be in Kenya. And yet I hold on to New Jersey like some kind of anchor.
Do you know what anchors do? My five year old told me about an imaginary anchor that would float in the air. Then she started laughing hysterically and proclaimed how silly that would be! Do you know why? Because even a child knows that anchors do not float. Anchors sink, grab hold of the bottom, and stop the ship. Even a very great ship is held by an anchor properly placed. Anchors, however, can be hauled up and put down in new ports.
There should be no anchors in my life that keep me from moving forward. Forward in the direction I ought to go. Forward without grumbling or complaining. Forward to the far horizons.
New places do not mean that old places aren't important. But we can not physically live in two places at once, and our hearts shouldn't strive to either.
Ebenezers are stones of remembrance, erected under the direction of the Lord, to ensure we don't forget His goodness and faithfulness. They are used to help us teach our children as we pass by them. The old places do not need to be forgotten, but Ebenezers are not meant to be idols.
The places we have come from have influenced us, formed our view of life and our place in it, but we should not confuse that with our inherent worth and self. By rejecting the new places, and honoring the old, we take the gift God has given us, and rob it of the joy with which it was given. Once again, our pride and disobedience declares that we know better, and that everything would be much better, if only He had let us stay right where we were before. For pete's sake, even the Israelites, after escaping from Egypt, declared it would have been better to remain slaves that be brought to die in the desert. But they didn't die then, they were saved.
By remaining obedient and faithful, trusting the Lord's wisdom and not our own, we can start to let go of the petty things that seem so important - food, fairs, cities, mountains, and beaches - and begin to appreciate the good things we have here and now. Wherever we may lay our head at night becomes home simply because we remember that our home isn't here anyway.
"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling"
2 Corinthians 5:1,2