My family lives in the Washington, D.C., area. We find the cost of living challenging here and have talked about moving to an area with a lower cost of living. We don’t want to be selfish but feel it is wiser to live in an area that isn’t as expensive to provide for our family. How do we think through this issue biblically? How do we trust God to provide while also making a wise decision for our family?
Should we move for a lower cost of living? Not as a primary reason.
The slant of American life is to become busier, wealthier people who used to have friends. None of us sets out to be this way, but most of us end up that way because we default to practical decisions that emphasize money and jobs over church and friends.
But Christians should live as a radical counter-culture to that norm. While God may call us to all kinds of places, absent a specific calling, Christians should default to choosing where they live based on Christian community.
Christians should default to choosing where they live based on Christian community.
We are made for community (Gen. 1:27). We were created in the image of a triune God, which means that in our spiritual DNA we are wired for each other.
One of the most astounding features of the creation narrative in Genesis is that Adam felt lonely in the presence of God (Gen. 2:18). Let the strangeness of this sink in: we can’t properly relate to God until we relate to him alongside others. As Tim Keller writes, “We can’t enjoy paradise without friends.”
The Geography of Friendship
Choosing where to live is one of your most significant relational decisions. Biblically, we were made for friendship. But in contemporary life, deep relationships are seen as a luxury instead of a necessity. Friendship is the most important but least discussed relationship in the church, according to pastor Kevin DeYoung.
People will move for a better job, a bigger house, more space, more privacy, bigger fences, bigger garages, or better schools. These things are not wrong, but why let them be our center of gravity? Where we live determines so much about our common life with others. If an idol is when we let a good thing become the most important thing, then we are in real danger of idolatry if we choose houses primarily based on jobs and money, rather than giving real, deep, and even primary consideration to community and friendship. Houses are homes, not assets.
Houses are homes, not assets.
Of course, we should be attentive to Lord’s direction. He may call you to mission work in Australia, or to teach in the inner city of a place a thousand miles away. He may call your family back to your hometown to care for aging parents, or to be the best investment banker in New York City. He may call you to farming, or to help plant a church in the most boring neighborhood of plain-vanilla suburbia where you must sacrifice all your Wendell Berry dreams. But when our options seem wide open, we should default to the geography of Christian friendship.
One way to do that: Look for a healthy, gospel-preaching church you can root yourself in. Let it be your relational center of gravity.
In your case, you might ask these questions:
- Am I leaving community, or moving to one?
- Does this move help me be more involved in a local church, or less?
- Does it mean I’ll spend more time in the car commuting, or more time with friends communing?
- Does it mean I’ll be hidden away from my neighbors, or on my porch engaging?
- Does this place offer friendship for my spouse and family too, or just me, or none of us?
A lower cost of living might be associated with a more communal neighborhood, being closer to your church, or finding the hospitality space that is so important to cultivating relationships. If that is the case, go for it! But it might also be associated with abandoning your community in the city, rooting in a place where spending time with friends is inconvenient, and locking yourself into a church commute that takes so long that you can never stay for lunch. If this is the case, the relational lens helps clarify this as an unwise decision.
It can be hard to choose Christian friendship in the midst of the demands of careers and parenting. This was a real struggle in my life. I lived in China for years as a missionary, which meant I moved away from all my friends and family for a call. After many years in China, I felt God calling me to enter the legal profession, so I moved back to the States for law school. For a while I assumed that my calling to law meant I should enter the most prestigious job I had access to, probably in Washington, New York City, or Shanghai. But while I had offers in all those places, I felt convicted. (I tell this story in greater detail in my book The Common Rule.)
My wife and I had our first child and one on the way. Between a demanding vocation and parenthood—both of which we were called to—I knew we would have very little margin. That’s when it struck me that probably the wisest decision I could make for my family was to pick a place to live where that margin could be easily devoted to church and friendship.
The wisest decision I could make for my family was to pick a place to live where that margin could be easily devoted to church and friendship.
After much prayer, we decided to let Christian friendship be our center of gravity, and let everything else revolve around that. We moved to Richmond, Virginia, where so many of our friends and family lived. It has been the best decision we ever made.
We have four boys now. I run my own law practice and write books on the side. My wife has done part-time philanthropy consulting and works with me on writing and speaking projects. In this demanding stage of career and parenthood, we are really busy, yes. But living close to church and friends means that we live this hard stage of life together, not alone—and that makes all the difference.
There are friends on our porch multiple nights a week. There are church services and family dinners on Sunday. There are shared babysitters and people we can lean on when things get tough—and they get tough a lot. There are community groups. One of the greatest spiritual gifts we can give our children is relationships with other adults and children who walk with Jesus. It’s hard to think of anything more important for my marriage and family than to steward them into a life of deep, Christian friendships.
I don’t have the most picturesque neighborhood or the best possible home equity. But I have friends who help me walk with Jesus. For that, I thank God every day. There is no better inheritance for my children.
If the friendship of the Trinity is in our spiritual DNA, then becoming more like God means becoming a friend. As we let friendship and Christian community be our center of gravity, we will reflect and glorify the Creator who made us in the image of his triune friendship.