Small-Town Mentality

I recently spoke to a friend who moved back to the States 18 months ago and is still trying to settle into life in a small town. She and her husband have moved 14 times during the course of their marriage and returned Stateside after five years of living overseas. She has lived in three countries and is tri-lingual but has had the most difficulty translating the small-town mentality. Before anyone gets all upset with me because I may be stepping a little too close to home, let me say...

You don't have to be from a small town to have a small-town mentality.

What is a small-town mentality?

Well I grew up in small town situated halfway between Charlotte and Spartanburg. I lived there for 16 years and its still what I consider my hometown. My parents have long ago moved away and I have no other extended family there except for one sister. I never go back there to visit unless it is to see her or to have the occasional girls weekend with my high school girlfriends. I have many fond memories of growing up and I was pretty content with my town until high school when I started making college visits and realized there was a lot more world out there to see and a lot more people to meet. Being from a small town has huge advantages but I realized that my small-town mentality was a hinderance to giving others grace, generosity, and kindness.

If you grew up in a town where your parents were born and frequently had Sunday lunch at your grandparents house then consider yourself blessed. You were given the gift of security and stability and that is so important for our emotional well-being. However, knowing that reliability and dependability were good things, I also noticed that I had a resistance to change and some difficulty moving outside of my comfort circle.

  • I needed to learn how to be a good friend to others and not just wait for someone else to always make a plan.
  • I needed to learn how to not be suspicious and judgemental of someone just because they had different thoughts, ideas, or (gasp) church denominations than me.
  • I needed to learn how to see the hurt in others and not always assume everything was about me.
  • I needed to understand that my small world of problems was just that... really small and really miniscule first-world problems.

I went on my first mission trip out of the country when I was 20 years old. Looking back, I wish I had been given the opportunity to serve overseas before that and now I have a goal of making sure each of my children take a mission trip out of the country before their 18th birthdays. (And going to an overseas resort doesn't count when you have the locals wait on you hand and foot and never leave the resort except for when you drive to and from the airport.)  It was mind-blowing for me to see how different the world lives and how totally spoiled and consumed I was living here in small-town America.

The Eastern European country I visited had recently come out from under communist rule and Americans were now granted access to enter the country. However, many communities were still feeling the effects of communism. I had the privilege to stay in the home for a week with our host family and they were so overly kind and generous to me. They lived in a small two bedroom apartment and only got running water for 6 hours per day and hot water for one hour per day which was between 5 and 6 a.m. 

The mother would get up each morning, run a warm bathtub for us, and then bring us a wash basin with warm water and fresh towels so that we could have a warm water to wash our hair. She would make our breakfast for us - bread, an egg, and a piece of meat and then after we finished eating she and her husband would make their plates and sometimes eat whatever we left over. 

Humbling doesn't even begin to describe it. 

Suddenly, my fashionable jeans, all the stuff in my house, all the food in my pantry, clean, warm running water any time of the day, and my selfish desire for a new car like my friends felt so stupid (especially when many people across our world either ride a bus, walk, or ride a bike everywhere).

I had the privilege to visit several other countries after this first trip overseas, and always came home feeling so unworthy (which I am) for having so many comforts living in the States. 

Yes, there is a big world out there but if we don't leave the comforts of our home to help a neighbor or friend across town and we are so wrapped up in our own little world that we cannot see the problems of others, then we've got an issue with small-town mentality. 

We need to be overly kind and generous to others not because they are related to us or because we've known them or their families our whole lives.

We need to learn that many who live in our community don't have the support system and love that we so often take for granted. 

  • A tired mom with no family of her own nearby. 
  • A work colleague who didn't grow up here and doesn't have the close network of friends that you have. 
  • A new family at church who doesn't know a soul in town but they have moved here because its where God has led them. 

  • Have you invited them over for dinner?
  • Have you offered to keep her children free of charge so she and her husband can have a date night?
  • Have you planned a girls night out with the soul purpose of introducing her to some new friends?
  • Have you picked up the phone or texted her to see how she is doing today or asked her if she wants to have lunch or a playdate with your children so you all can get to know each other better? 

Yep, we're all guilty of small-town mentality. 

We like our close-knit circle and we struggle to see beyond our front porch. We like the comforts of the known and we are a little resistant to the unknown and unfamiliar. We put our money in the plate on Sundays to support local and international missions but we rarely travel to the other side of town to help those who don't look, talk, or act like us. We immediately shake our heads and make up a thousand and one reasons why we can't go on the mission trip overseas that our church is planning. 

I grew up in a small town and my husband and I have settled into a small community just west of a big city. I love the fact that we have the love and support of our community and church family but I also know that there are lots and lots and lots of opportunities out in there to love others generously and lavishly when they least expect it. 

Have you asked God lately what He would like to do with you in 2014? And have you asked Him to help you move beyond your small-town mentality? There is a big world out there, but you, just like me, have to be willing to see it. 


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