Is it time to settle down — or settle in?

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at

“He’s never settled down.”

It’s an indicting remark, a phrase we sometimes use in describing a person who appears to lack maturity. We may think this person has not yet “got it together,” or “doesn’t have his head on straight.” Perhaps this individual is not very dependable, struggles with commitments, and is generally unfocused in most pursuits.

It’s a negative evaluation, to say the least.

But with a closer look, it can be a positive statement. The “unsettled” person can also be one who is constantly growing, learning and refuses to allow daily living to stagnate into the mundane.

In fact, we are encouraged to not “settle on our lees” in the biblical reference to wine improperly processed. Wine can lose its taste and strength, turning to dregs when it loses the necessary motion in its making and settles on the lees.

For a good life, perhaps we, too, need to stay in motion.

The “unsettled” person, however, is not dissatisfied with life; rather, he is comfortable with the notion that he has gifts yet to be discovered. He lives expectantly, looking forward to the time like the kid on Christmas morning when he can tear off the ribbons, rip apart the paper and discover what new talent life has revealed for him to develop.

“Settling on the lees” happens when we no longer allow life to move through us. We lose our dreams and settle for less without taking our best shot at the best.

“Help us not to settle for the good without striving for the best,” is an oft-heard prayer.

Sometimes, however, we have no choice. That life we dreamed of and planned for has met with so many obstacles that the target is unattainable.

And the hard part begins — reframing what we want by what we have left to get it.

And the “unsettled” get creative.

After three years of retirement, my father suggested adding one last “R” to that life stage’s traditional R&R, rest and relaxation — redirection. With redirection included, he contended, we put motion back in life, adding the need to find new opportunities for our time and talents.

He recalled several “unsettled’ friends.” Mr. Joe was an 80-year-old friend who learned to use a typewriter and at 81 got a typing job with a new small company in our town. And there was Jim, who worked for the railroad almost 65 years. Upon retirement at 85, he started painting trains from memory, becoming a celebrated artist.

Dad admired the spirit of Chief Justice Holmes who had his pension cut by Congress at 91 and reportedly replied, “The cut doesn’t bother me now, but I won’t have as much to put up for old age!”

Perhaps we shouldn’t settle down, but settle in for life’s long ride. If we keep in motion and let life move through us, it may help us discover what is in us.