People do this. They ask: Why did you move out of town? my neighborhood? our shared apartment with five people in two bedrooms? They get a look on their face and a tone in the voice that implies — shouldn’t you be apologizing?
When I went back to Riverside, CA, this past summer, which I left in 1991, people were still talking about me leaving. When my friend from Riverside came our way to visit this summer, she took me aside and asked, “Why did you leave?” Paul had a similar experience when he left Ephesus, I think. People were crying on the beach (Acts 20). Even if you leave town because you are a Christian, because you think God wants you to do it, people cry and wonder if you should do it. We are important.
But for some people it is, “For crying out loud! You’re leaving?!” Some might even get huffy or pouty if someone seems to be leaving for less than holy reasons. “You don’t love South Philly? You don’t love me? What about what we were together? What about what we were doing together? The community garden! Brunch at Sabrina’s!” We are a community in mission and each player makes a difference.
This seems like kind of a “light” question for the Bible to talk about it so much. But it does.
- Paul says: I am with you even when absent: “For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit” (1 Cor 5: 4, see Colossians 2:5, too).
- Paul also says — I long to be with you to share my life. “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong. (Romans 1:11-13, see also 2 Cor. 10:10-11).
Present is better than absent. We are not pictures on Facebook, we are people. It does matter when we are physically together. We gain strength and comfort from the presence of others. Paul knows he can’t be who he is or give what he has unless he shows up. What we build together and give to each other really is irreplaceable.
We always have to talk about how spirit and body go together. We are both. We are spirit. We are spiritual beings longing to connect in love. We are also body. We are physical beings who cannot be every place at all times and need to be present to fully connect.
I think some people might rely more on being physically present to connect. They need the physical. If you leave town, or maybe even the room, they might get anxious. I study attachment theory quite a bit these days. These kind of people might be like one type of baby Mary Ainsworth identified when she was testing to see what would happen if a baby’s mother left her one-year-old in a “strange situation.” A majority of children she studied had some concern about being left by their mothers, but they were secure, they explored, they were basically happy because they trusted that mom would come back and needs would be met. About a fifth of the babies were anxious. Apparently, they experienced their mother as sometimes sensitive and sometimes neglectful. They were upset until she got back because they weren’t sure she was coming back! It might be the same if you up and leave town, a good number of people will be upset. You are just one more unreliable person! Some people might be really hanging on to your presence and getting some needs met. It is a loss for them.
One the other hand, I think some people might rely on spirit, maybe too much. They are kind of out there floating and are not attached securely. For about 20% of the Ainsworth’s crawlers, when mom left they were distant and disengaged. They just sat there and didn’t explore and would not connect emotionally. They had a subconscious idea that their needs would not be met. It made them avoid attachment altogether! It might be the same when you leave town. Some people might not say anything because they can’t really bear to feel more needs not being met. Maybe they never got close to you in the first place because they didn’t want to be left alone.
The marriage covenant causes similar issues to surface. Some marriages have a lot of problems from the very beginning because as soon as the intimacy begins the attachment issues become evident. A person who has always trusted that his needs would be met, might be very insensitive to a person who never could trust her needs to be met. If you have a person who is avoidant and doesn’t instinctively attach connected to a person who is anxious, and so always wants to get closer and get reassured, that can take a long time to figure out.
In the church our covenant often works out in just the same way. That is why many people would not want to make one. They don’t expect it to be anything but trouble and disappointment. We get people connected in our cells and for some people that is a real stretch because they are allowing themselves to trust and to work on loving people, which includes becoming attached in a family-like way. Secure people are fine for the most part — it doesn’t take too much to convince them that there is enough love to go around. But for about half the population, it can be very trying to multiply and experience people separating into another cell. Then the whole congregation multiplies! And then you move away! Maybe they can’t really complain about God and the church but they can complain about you leaving town.
That is OK. It doesn’t always feel good, but if we have any life in the Spirit at all, we will be patient with one another as we figure these things out. And even if we don’t seem to be figuring them out too well, we will still be patient.
In soul-health terms, the goal is to be your true self. On the one hand that means being able to say, “I am who I am,” and feel like you are OK with that. You are free. You are yourself in Christ. At the same time it means you can be intimate. You are part of a “we” and able to say, “We are who we are.” You can choose to connect and choose to leave.
I think it is good for lovers of people to understand these kinds of things. If someone is upset because you are leaving they may have several reasons that seem good to them, and they may have reasons that seem good to God. It makes sense to deal with them all and not just cut them off and move on with your life. They may be clingy because they are insecure. If you need to go, go. But they may object to being devalued because you did not connect. You may not be able to retrofit the relationship, but you might want to note the reality. You think you didn’t make a difference, and you did.
I hope their biggest reason for feeling loss when you leave is not just a personal feeling or a revisiting of an old grief, like the time their mom left them with Mary Ainsworth and they were an experiment! I hope they just longed to be knit together in love. Last thought from Paul: “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united (knit together) in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). When a part of the body it lost, it is a loss. Because when we are knit together, eternity is opened up in significant ways.