Four Ways to Learn to Love Your City

I think God has more for us than stiff resignation about our assigned duty station.

So what do you do when you find yourself in a place you don’t love? I have this conversation a lot with people in my church that come here through the military, or through federal jobs, or for med school. Maybe you live where you live not because you chose it but because your job chose it for you, or there was a family obligation, or you felt called to a church or ministry there. Maybe you keep list of your top five cities you’d like to live in but landed at number 50. Well, here’s the truth: You don’t live there by accident.

 

My city isn’t an especially loveable city. It doesn’t have standout cultural attractions, or pro-football teams, or lush green landscapes. It’s a dry, hot, rocky, desert. And as a construction worker told me last week, “The one good thing about living here used to be no traffic, and now we have traffic.”

So what do you do when you find yourself in a place you don’t love? I have this conversation a lot with people in my church that come here through the military, or through federal jobs, or for med school. Maybe you live where you live not because you chose it but because your job chose it for you, or there was a family obligation, or you felt called to a church or ministry there. Maybe you keep list of your top five cities you’d like to live in but landed at number 50.

Well, here’s the truth: You don’t live there by accident.

As the Father has sent Jesus, Jesus has sent us (John 20:21). My friend Ian likes to say that you don’t live where you live or work where you work by accident, but because God has called you to be on mission there. Throughout all the ages and states and continents, Jesus has sent you exactly where you find yourself today. I love that.

But I find that a consistent stumbling block to participating in Jesus’ mission is when Christians refuse to love their city. They complain about the drivers or the people or the food or the store. They grumble about where God has brought them. I get it. I’ve grumbled too.

When I say “love”, I don’t mean that you have to declare it your favorite place in the world, but love as biblically defined. Because I think God has more for us than stiff resignation about our assigned duty station.

So here are four suggestions for how to learn to love your city:

WHAT DO YOU ALREADY LOVE? FIND AND LOVE THOSE THINGS

You naturally love some things, right? Maybe you love running or climbing or shopping or eating Thai food. List out the top ten things you love. Well, chances are the city you’re in doesn’t fulfill all 10 of those things. (Spoiler: No city will totally satisfy all your longings, you’ll have to wait for the Heavenly City for that.) But chances are at least a handful of those are happening in your city.

One guy I know moved here for a time and loved food and culture and the outdoors. But he didn’t connect at all with the food and culture of my city. Luckily, we have plenty of outdoors–state parks and natural wonders all around–and those things helped give him a love for the place.

Find what you already love. It may take some digging, but something is there.

WHAT MAKES YOUR CITY UNIQUE? LOVE ONE OF THOSE THINGS

I know that your city has some glorious things about it. Why? Because the people made in the image of God still have that glorious image shine through them in creativity and culture. And God made the landscape around them to reflect his glory. Your city has some great things about it. Maybe it’s a killer cuisine. Maybe it’s the friendliness of the people. Maybe it’s an area with killer Christmas lights.

Don’t say there’s nothing to do or love in your city. People say, “Ugh my city just has no music scene.” That’s probably not true, it may just not have your music scene. So find out what in your city is good and, and even if you don’t love all those things, try a few out. Learn to love something.

I’ve taken up bouldering recently, partially because my city has some of the best bouldering and climbing in the country, just sitting there. I absolutely stink at it but, hey, why not learn to take advantage of where I live? (Thanks Cave Climbing!)

WHERE IS YOUR CITY BROKEN? THAT SHOULD BREAK YOUR HEART

Learning to love your city isn’t just about having fun. The way the world looks at cities is through the lens of consumerism, but Christians view their cities through the lense of true sacrificial love. This kind of love means entering into the highs and lows, it means understanding where your city is beautiful and where it is profoundly broken.

When Jesus looked out at a great crowd, Scripture says he was moved to compassion because they were “harassed and helpless” (Matt 9:36). Where is your city harassed and helpless?

In my city, food insecurity is a real epidemic. Fatherlessness in certain areas is rampant. There’s real difficulty in climbing out of poverty. These things break my heart. Even if you live in a prosperous area, there are real things to grieve over–drug use, consumerism, divorce.

Find these areas. Talk to teachers and social workers and law enforcement, read the newspaper, and pray regularly for a heart for these things. I’m so blessed and encouraged at the way the med students that attend our church have a real heart for our community and have volunteered their time to serve our community.

WHAT LOCAL ISSUES DO YOU CARE ABOUT? DO SOMETHING ABOUT THEM

Too often we default to asking our cities, “What can you provide me with to make my life happier?” But encountering Jesus flips that on its head. Instead, we ask, “What we can give to make the city around us better?”

God called even the exiles to care about the welfare of their adopted city (Jer 29:7). So act locally and specifically. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be something that matters.

I have a friend who is a barber who is offering free haircuts to the homeless at the local rescue mission. She has a big heart and would love to help everyone all the time, but she’s starting with just one simple step: making folks feel clean, sharp, and human again. That’s one small way she cares about her city and does something about it.

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Honestly, it wasn’t until I moved away from my city that I truly gained a heart for it. I was living on the East Coast and my dad sent me a photo book of my city. It wasn’t pretty, but as I flipped through the pages the city became beautiful. I learned to love the rugged mountains splitting the middle of the city, the intersection of two countries, the view for miles on miles. And my heart broke for the low-income areas, the hopelessness in the eyes of some people on the street.

I learned to love my city when I returned–not in a superficial way but in a deep sacrificial way. Now, give me five minutes, and I’ll convince you that you should love my city too.

So get out there and love your city. Find things you love, find something new, find what breaks your heart, and then roll up your sleeves and help.

Ricky Alcantar is Pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, TX. This article appeared at The Blazing Center and is used with permission.