My missionary friend and his family are here for a few months on home assignment.  That’s what they call it anyway.  There was a day when this little town was home for them.  That has been a few years ago.  Now, they live in Europe, training young folks at the school they help to staff there.

Periodically, they are required to spend a certain amount of time in this, their country of legal citizenship.  We love having them around.  Long distance relationships lose something through the miles; absentee friendships leave an empty space where warm bodies used to live.

They have just moved into a house for the duration of their time here, so it seemed fitting for me to ask the question when I saw him recently.

“Are you settling in all right?”

I must admit, I was a little sad to realize the answer wasn’t what I expected.  Oh, he responded in the affirmative, but his hesitation, his facial expression as he replied, belied the words.  I don’t mean to say he was lying, but just that he knew he would never be settled in here again.  I’m thinking that his home, his heart, is miles away from here in a small town in Southern Germany right next to the famed Black Forest. He and his family are here and reside in their temporary home, but settling isn’t what they have in mind.

Have you ever thought of the many diverse ways we use the word settle?  To rowdy children, we insist that they settle down; when a fight is over, we suggest that the dust has settled.  The pioneers, who pushed their way into the uncharted wilderness, upon finding a suitable location, settled it, with the resulting community becoming what we quite naturally call a settlement.  When there is a legal dispute, often the opposing parties will settle their differences.  Sugar spooned into a cup of coffee settles to the bottom.

In all of these instances and more, before the act of settlement commences there is a period of uncertain activity.  Uncontrolled circumstances evoke emotions of agitation and turbulence.  We generally prefer settlement–the calm after the storm, if you will.

It’s not always what we get.

My mind started down this pathway earlier today, as I worked with a customer’s order.  As it turned out, he had requested a title which is no longer available in the marketplace.  There was nothing to do except cancel the order and refund his money.

I opened the computer program to make a refund to his credit card.  I was immediately faced with a choice.  I could search the settled transactions or the unsettled ones.  The end of the business day not yet having occurred, the transaction was classified as unsettled. Only after we close for the day are the individual sales grouped together and sent electronically to the bank for settlement.  Before that time, they are unsettled–up in the air–and may be voided, leaving no trace of the transaction in the books.  During the time the transaction is unsettled, it may be changed or erased.  Once settled, it is recorded and the appropriate amount transferred to our account from the customer’s.

I clicked the unsettled button, found the record of the transaction and voided it.  Funny.  The sale which the customer had thought settled never was.  In fact, it is now completely non-existent.  He is not likely to be happy.  It is possible that he may actually be feeling a bit unsettled right now.

But, my thoughts go back to my friend and his family.  Not settled in.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure they are completely settled in when they’re in Germany, either.  They know that they are doing what they need to be doing–today.  Tomorrow may bring a different assignment.  And, they’ll move on to not settle in that place, too.

You see, I think perhaps we value the calm after the storm so much that we don’t see we’re not intended to settle in too comfortably anywhere.

The pioneers found this to be true.  Along the way, they would settle in places where they believed it was safe to stop, only to be attacked by enemies, or caught in wicked weather.  They would move on to another spot and hope they could settle there.  Often, believing themselves safe, they would establish a settlement and even make it their home for many months before finding that they had to move on again for reasons they could not have foreseen.

We value comfort and calm in a world which is neither comfortable nor calm for very long.  Perhaps, the settling needs to be internal rather than external.  Not dependent on circumstances, an inner calm endures because it is established on the only solid foundation.  Like Abraham of old, we are willing to wander now, knowing we have a destination which will certainly be a place into which we will settle at last.  The maelstrom of uncertainty will churn and whirl around us, but we will be ready to weather whatever comes.

Oh.  Did I forget to mention it?  There is one other way we use the word settle.  We refuse to settle–to accept the calm which follows the storm when it is less that everything that we are seeking.  We refuse to settle for less than what has been guaranteed; refuse to settle for the empty promises that this place we wander through makes, but upon which it cannot deliver.

How about it?  Do we settle here?

Or, is there more elsewhere?

I’m thinking there may be a little more of the pioneer spirit still alive inside of me.  Perhaps, we should keep on moving along.

“…I have learned to be content in any circumstance.”
(Philippians 4:11 ~ NET Bible)

“I refuse to settle for something less than great.  And, if it takes a lifetime, that’s how long I’ll wait.”
(from “Somebody’s Everything” ~ Dolly Parton ~ American singer/songwriter)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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