My husband and I moved to Canada last year, my home country, so to speak, though it had been 30 years since I had resided here. In those years, I had lived and traveled throughout the Americas, without a thought of ever returning to the place of my birth for any length of time.
The repatriation process was a lot of hard work and a bit of a culture shock, though I quickly came to love living in a country that embraces diversity and welcomes immigrants from around the world, creating a racial and ethnic mixture that exudes tolerance and teaches patience for the many people trying to find their way, learn a new language, and adapt to a new culture. It brought home the realization that the planet is full of people rebuilding their lives, searching for new homes, learning new languages and trades, and starting over from scratch. A modern phenomenon, and yet God has created humankind with the versatility to start over.
In the process of receiving some medical tests, I struck up a conversation with the radiologist, a pleasant, kind woman with a patient look of longsuffering etched deep in her face. Her story was a telling one. Born in Russia, she became a pediatrician during the communist era. After the fall of communism, she immigrated to Israel, where she discovered that she would have to repeat most of her medical training if she wished to practice in Israel. Feeling called to be a pediatrician, she repeated eight laborious years of medical training and once again took up the practice. Life was not going well for her and her family in Israel, so they felt compelled to immigrate again to Canada. Once again, she discovered that she would have to endure some eight years of medical training if she wished to practice. At that point, she gave up her medical practice and became a radiologist, as she felt that now that she has children of her own, it wasn’t possible to repeat the training.
As she shared her life story, she did so with cheerfulness and without complaint. She had assessed her options, redirected her plans, and started over from scratch. I am sure that cheerfulness and patience was hard-earned, and I expressed my appreciation to her, which brought a smile to her face.
Certainly, starting over during mid-life is not an enviable position. But it is one that many people today face. It seems that there are few careers, professions, or jobs that come with a “guaranteed for life” sticker, and the new reality of today’s world is versatility and adaptability. Thankfully, those are qualities that we, as Christians, have been taught to hone, as the following verses brought home to me:
To everything a season
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.
[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. … God does it so that men will revere him.1
The Bible is filled with stories of people who changed careers, changed homelands, or changed direction as God guided them, whether through His direct word or through circumstances. Starting over is, in fact, so common in the Bible that it’s difficult to think of many of its main characters who didn’t have to start over, beginning with Abraham to Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, the disciples, Paul, and on the list goes.
Living as I do in an area of the world where so many people are first-generation immigrants has brought home to me the fact that starting over is a fact of life that many people are facing in today’s world, as the dynamics around them shift and populations migrate and travel the globe in search of better opportunities and a better life. They choose to be strangers and pilgrims to provide a better life for their families and children, and step out with incredible courage to do so, often with few resources and having to leave behind their families, careers, and credentials. They still conceive of a future that is better, that makes it worth the risk and the challenges.
Thankfully, as Christians we are “confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations; a city designed and built by God,”2 so that “now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance … beyond the reach of change and decay.” With this good news, we can be “truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine.”3
Starting over still looms large, and at times the challenges seem overwhelming. But taking a look around and seeing the courage of other people who have crossed land and sea in search of better circumstances in this world has served as a confidence-booster that God never puts us in a position where we can’t grow and expand and “run with endurance the race He has set before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, our champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”4
It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God who warned him [and here is the key] about something that had never happened before. Something unprecedented, that’s where faith takes us. All of us want God to do something new while we keep doing the same old thing. But it doesn’t work that way. If you want to see God work in a new way, if you want to go after a dream, you are going to have to do something different, maybe even something unprecedented. And I think Noah sets a wonderful example for us.—Mark Batterson5
1 Ecclesiastes 3:1–7, 11, 14 NIV.
2 Hebrews 11:10 NLT.
3 1 Peter 1:3–4, 6–7 NLT.
4 Hebrews 12:1–2 NLT.
5 “Long Obedience,” a talk at National Community Church, January 20, 2013.