The Grove: Distance

I once knew an overseas worker who begged her organization, “Please, please don’t make me go on a home assignment.”  She had spent so long fully investing herself in her host country that she admitted, “I have nothing to go back to; no life, no friends, no family, no community that would be my home for home assignment.  There’s nothing there for me anymore. Just let me stay.”

I’ve also known an overseas worker who lived in her host country without ever really living there.  She spent hours a day on her computer to the neglect of the relationships and service surrounding her.  She counted the days, the hours even, until she would get on that plane back to her “real life.”

Most of us are caught living in the tension between these two extremes.

How do we live life where we are while staying connected to the life and people we’ve left behind?

We are no longer the pioneers of the past, packing luggage in coffins, saying forever goodbyes, likely never to return.  We are the people of today straddling the distance that spans between two worlds.  We are trying to stay connected to both of our homes and to the people dear to us in both places.

How do we do this well, so that neither is neglected?

The first step is acknowledging which extreme you tend to lean towards.

And then we look to Jesus.  How did he handled his relationships?  Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus spent thirty of his thirty-three years with his family and “home” community.  So there’s that.  And we see him making sure his mother was taken care of when he knew he wouldn’t be there for her anymore.

Then we have the detailed account of how very intentional and strategic Jesus was with his relationships during ministry years.  We see how he gave sometimes himself to the needs of the masses, and other times when he didn’t.  He often withdrew to be alone with his father.  And he withdrew to devote himself to certain people.  He very intentionally identified a group of twelve, and then even a group of three, to whom he would prioritize his devotion.

That’s great for Jesus, right?  But what does it practically mean for us?  What does it mean when I look at my schedule, when I look at all of the plates and priorities and people that are spinning in this life of mine?  How do I prioritize my time and energy?

Let me share an analogy I heard this past summer that is shaping and changing the way I think about life.  

Imagine you have a jar.  Someone points to a pile of rocks, pebbles and sand, and says, “Put all of this in this jar.  And know that ALL of it is important, so fit it ALL in.”  Anyone who understands basic physics will know to fit the most in the jar, you will have to put the big rocks in first.


What are the big rocks in your life?  What are those non-negotiable, absolute top priorities in your life?  I could tell you mine, but I don’t want that to skew your own soul searching process.  Once you’ve determined what your big rocks are, put them (and the time they need) into your life and schedule first.  Without those in place, nothing else will work.

Let me say that again… NOTHING ELSE WILL WORK.

How many lives have fallen apart because the most important things in life got crowded out by good but lesser things?  

So after the big rocks are firmly in place, then put in the pebbles, the other good and important, but no so important things in your schedule. Because if these things are not in your schedule, then either A.) They won’t happen, or  B.) They will fill up all your time and push out the more important things of your life.

Finally, pour the sand into the margins of your life.  The beauty of it is that the rocks create margins.  But then realize that not every thing is going to fit.  The jar will be full.  But now it’s just the sand and maybe some pebbles are that are left out, not the big rocks.

In this whole process you’re going to have to determine what kind of space in your life you will to devote to your long distance relationships and what kind of space you will devote to your in-person relationships.  Prayerfully and intentionally mark those spaces in your life.

Then realize that each of those spaces then becomes a jar in itself.  Are you following?  You now have a clearly defined and designated space in your life that is your “long distance relationship” jar and a jar that is your “in-person relationship” jar.  Now, apply the big rock principle to your relationship jars.  Who are your big rocks right where you are?  Who are your big rocks on the other side of the sea?  Put time and effort into them first.  Then the pebbles and then the sand.

Confession: I have neglected some of my big rock relationships.  I have let other good and important (but no so important) things crowd against relationships which in the whole grand scheme matter more.

And I repent.

As I get up off my knees, I long for these prioritizing and carving-space disciplines to come more naturally for me.  I find that people and life don’t all fall into neat little blocks of my time.

But without intentionality and discipline, without prayerful stewarding of life, it all becomes a blur, and I end up distant from the One who matters most.

Only when that biggest of rocks centers in my jar do the other pieces fall in place.  Only then do I have a fullness to offer anyone.  Only then can I gracefully dance in the tension of life between two worlds.


What about you?  Which extreme do you tend to lean towards?  Too connected with life back “home” or not connected enough?

What helps you in prioritizing your time and relationships?


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  1. Kristi September 25, 2014


    Distance is a paradox

    It separates yet at the

    Same time brings into view

    The importance of

    An ever deepening

    Need to

    Connect with those we love and to

    Enter into a vital relationship with our Creator


    1. Malia September 26, 2014

      Amazing, Kristi. Thank you for sharing this poem.

    2. Danielle Wheeler September 26, 2014

      I never quite thought about distance as a paradox before.  Again, your words paint beauty and provoke thought, Kristi.

      1. Kristi September 26, 2014

        I have found that am more open with friends and family from the States not that I’m living overseas.  I’ve also found that I desire deeper connections with people here as well.  Being physically apart has brought us emotionally and spiritually closer to each other. The physical distance from people has also  drawn me closer to God.

        1. ErinMP September 27, 2014

          I found a similar thing with many people.

  2. Elizabeth September 25, 2014

    Yesterday I was FB messaging my best friend in the States. My four-year-old came and sat down next to me, noticed her profile pic, and said, “Mommy, that is your best fwend. You haven’t seen her in awhile. Are you sad?” I was amazed that she could even articulate something like that.

    That very same best friend wrote a guest post for my blog when we’d been apart about a year:

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 26, 2014

      Wow, that’s a perceptive four-year-old!

      And I just read the blog post.  Oh, my.  So glad you shared that.  What a gift you have in her!  And yes, the emptiness we leave behind for others to live with…  We’re not the only ones sacrificing.  Thanks for adding this to the conversation.

    2. ErinMP September 27, 2014

      What a compassionate little one too.

  3. Laura September 26, 2014


    I appreciated this post today, especially since my sister just left after visiting me for two weeks; the distance between here and home feels so much greater after someone visits. I find myself needing to evaluate my rocks and jars fairly regularly. I tend to lean toward investing more into friendships at home, so I have to work on being just as intentional with my friendships here.

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 26, 2014

      Ah, so true that the distance feels greater after a visit.  Glad you got that sweet gift of time with your sister.  But yes, it is hard to say those goodbyes!  Grace and wisdom as you evaluate your rocks, friend.

  4. Kristi September 26, 2014

    Separation…akin to distance


    Speaks into the

    Everyday life we once took for granted

    Preparing us to be an

    Answer to someone’s prayer

    Restoring the joy of just being together

    And deepening

    The desire for the day when

    In glory He comes with

    Open arms to welcome us

    Never to be separated again

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 26, 2014

      Beautiful!  And so true.  Favorite line: “Restoring the joy of just being together.”  Imagining this joy for all of eternity.

  5. Grace L September 26, 2014

    This hits very close to home. I am so invested in our life here and our friends and feel like I do not have a home to go back to in the states. I struggle between thinking that I am off balance, but then I think of those who have gone before us in the last couple of centuries. When they moved to Asia, they came here for life. They had families and would send the children back to the states for college, but after a season there, the children would come back to their new “homeland” to be with family and to be a part of serving in the land of their birth. I often find that the westerners that I can relate to the most are other global people. Just had an energizing conversation with another expat woman in this country. She lives in a distant city so we don’t get to connect in person, but connecting by phone was such an encouragement to me. Yes, we need to stay connected, whether it is with the local people we are here to serve or loved ones back home or other precious sisters who can relate to us.

    Danielle, your post today has me thinking about the balance in my life and what are the big stones that I need to fill my jar with. Thank you so much!

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 28, 2014

      Thank YOU, Grace, for what you’re adding to the conversation here.  You remind us that every person’s story and journey is unique, so the balance will be different for each of us.  And that “balance” changes with time!  So glad you got to connect with another expat.  Blessings and wisdom to you (and all of us!) in considering your jars…

  6. ErinMP September 27, 2014

    Thank you. This spoke right to my heart and helped me realize some things.

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 28, 2014

      So glad to hear that, Erin.  It was meant for your heart and mine.

  7. Michele Call September 27, 2014

    Thanks for this post and the topic this week. In the past I have not invested enough in my family back home. But through years of ministry that includes frequent moves and some hard situations, I have come to realize that God has given me an incredible support network in them. They know me, love me and are willing to drop anything for me. So this post reminds me to continue to make them a priority, even though connecting with them is not typically among the things that are immediate and shouting for my attention.

    1. Danielle Wheeler September 28, 2014

      Having relationships that don’t shout for your attention is good, but yeah, it does make it easier to let them slide to the back burner, even when they are not “back burner” relationships in your heart.  I love hearing of the kind of support your family gives you.  Such a gift.

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