In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me. The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses. Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too. Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”
So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings. I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady. One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life. One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis. The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.
Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart. We want to be home, but not confined. We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost. All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.
I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in. Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart. I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed. And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire. What is the solution?
I’m beginning to think surrender and authentic freedom answers these desires best. This world changes and passes away and sometimes my desire for roots is based in the hope that I can make things stay. I cannot–so little in this life is under my control or authority. On the other hand, my dream of flying away from it all is closely attached to the lie that changes in my surroundings will necessarily cause a deep change within myself. An interior change requires much more than a new location.
The human heart, naturally, is filled with great hopes and I don’t want to dismiss them. For some reason, God moves my heart in ways that I do not fully understand. Somehow, He is desiring to use these longings, fulfilling them in ways that I might not expect, but providing genuine fulfillment nonetheless.
A few days ago, I was talking to my spiritual director, presenting these seemingly contradictory desires to go be a missionary and yet create a home for myself. He asked me why I couldn’t do both. Roots and wings. In my mind, there was a decision that I needed to make, one way or the other regarding my future. And here he was, presenting a third way.
What if God wants more for me than I thought possible to reasonably hope for? What if roots and wings, freely surrendered to God, would fulfill my longings? What if I could fly away and yet remain rooted here? Until these questions are answered, I must remain in a position of receptivity, presenting to the Lord my authentic longings and waiting to see what He wants to do with them. Perhaps, like St. Paul, it is all a lesson in learning to be content with what I have in whatever situation I find myself currently in.
Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash