I think I found God in the suburbs.
For most who know me, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I dislike the suburbs. I moved to the (big) city within a week of graduating college and I haven’t looked back. I quickly became about as urban as I could become, not actually having grown up in a large metropolis. I came to crave the diversity and grit of city life, being drawn to the authenticity and beauty of it all. It was so different from the place from which I’d come, which both fascinated and beckoned me.
For nearly five years I worked for an urban missions agency that hosted mission teams year round, based out of Houston’s Third Ward (later we moved our base a bit more southeast). Youth groups from mostly suburban churches would work with us and in this time, I continued to build my case against the burbs. They were all so perfect, so homogeneous, so clueless when it came to real issues that real people were facing. It was a harsh judgement, but it was my judgement. After all, I was once one of them.
My sister and I made the trip to see our mother a couple of weekends ago. We drove through Dallas and kept heading north. Soon we could only see strip malls and box houses. “We must be close,” we said. In our time there, we admittedly enjoyed all the amenities of the suburbs – outlet malls, big roomy houses, and massive televisions with thousands of channels. I felt like I was on vacation.
One evening I went for a jog as the sun finally started to dip below the horizon. It’s the only time I can bear to run outdoors in the summer and I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I did, though. As I started along the perfectly manicured street, a sense of peace flooded over me that was palpable. As I listened to one of my favorite podcasts – Pray as you Go – I found myself in one of those quiet, sacred spaces that I love. The purple, blue, and pink sky was picture perfect and I knew that God was so very near. Peace, peace, peace as my rhythmic footsteps hit the perfect, straight sidewalk. I didn’t find myself despising the place, but rather loving it.
I think too often I’ve only allowed myself to encounter God in gritty, messy, harsh places. I’ve found him in personal crisis, in the face of an undocumented family, in the slums, the tears, and the pain. And he is most certainly there. I wonder, though, if I can’t also see his face in peaceful, quiet, “perfect” places. Perhaps it’s easy to grow accustomed to one season, one place, one rhythm, and forget that there are actually many. The world is so much bigger than what I see now, or even what I’ve seen in the past few years.
I’m back in the city now and my jogs are back to my normal route. I pass by angry dogs, overgrown lawns, and at-risk schools. I am comfortable here. As I look up at the same watercolor sky, though, I recall that night just a few weeks ago; I’m humbled and inspired, curious and glad. May I not only be comfortable here, but may I embrace the vastness of God’s heart and the richness of his presence at all times and in all places. May I search for him and expect to find him, even in the suburbs.