I read a post of Mark Bertrand's yesterday that got me thinking. He shared a response he had to a discussion about whether or not Christians should choose to live in small towns or in cities. I sensed a certain idealism about small towns and commented on the limitations of small town living. I started thinking more about this and decided maybe it's worth an actual blog post.
I've lived in small towns all my life -- the largest "city" I've ever lived in had about 16,000 people. The town I live in now has just under 5,000 people. It's the county seat, so it has the essential services. And we belong to a great church -- one of the best church families I've ever known. It's one reason we stay where we are instead of moving to Manhattan and saving some commute time.
Growing up in small towns -- and I'm thinking of one in particular -- has shaped me in ways good and bad. The town where we lived during the formative years of my life was (and probably still is) an ingrown little town in west-central Illinois. If you want to live someplace where people leave you alone and mind their own business, it's a fine place. If you're a sensitive child who longs for even one true friend, it's not so fine. We moved there when I was 2 1/2. I've been told it was a confusing move for me -- I couldn't understand why we had left the only home I'd known, and all our friends. My mom says I became much quieter and introspective.
School did not bring me out of my shell -- I was one of the youngest kids in the class and somewhat immature emotionally. I cried easily and probably seemed like a weird little kid so I got picked on. A lot. Which only drove me further into myself. I was imaginitive and intelligent and preferred reading and playing pretend to the more socially acceptable entertainments of sports and cheerleading. I hung onto my imaginary friends much longer than anyone else. Class field trips or other occasions where we had to pair up with a buddy were nightmares for me. No one wanted to pair up with me. I was always the odd one out. A girl in my class lived near me, but she only played with me when there was no one better around. (At least that's how I felt.)
But I also have to admit that in many ways, I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in a stable, loving family and knew that home was my sanctuary. I got along pretty well with my younger brothers and we played together a lot. I had a best friend, but she lived in another town so I didn't get to see her as much as I wanted. I got to go to church camp in the summer and that was always fun, though I often felt out of place, there, too. But I could alway earn points for my team by doing all the Bible memory verses. I had a lot of fun during vacations when I got to see some of my cousins who were near my age. Still, when we moved away from this town when I was 12, I was happy about the move.
When I look back on my experience growing up in this very small and insular town, I can see how it has shaped me. My self-esteem took a beating, but I also began the process of learning that popularity isn't worth chasing after. I learned to rely on my internal resources, to go my own way instead of following the crowd. I accepted Christ and was baptized when I was 10 and began my walk with the Lord. I'm more willing to accept people who are a little different because I know what it's like.
So in many ways, I can be thankful for the difficulties I experienced as a child. They've had a lot to do with who I am now. And I think they help me be a better writer.
I think God places us where we need to be -- whether it's a small town or a big city or the suburbs. Sometimes -- probably many times -- we wish we were somewhere else. But we're called to be God's people wherever we are. Contentment is a lifelong learning process.