Can I ever move?

In Circle of Hope I think we often hear the question: “why do people act like it’s wrong to move of town?” It is an interesting question because when people make a big deal of someone moving, it is so emotional and so intense, that it’s hard to navigate the issue very well. We end up having a conflict that we regret, develop a reputation that we can’t get rid of, or just end up avoiding it altogether.

I’m thinking a lot about moving this week because I spent time with some old friends, that I moved away from when I left Lebanon County. And with a few others that with whom I share a lot of friends in common. I thought about moving away and how happy I was for doing that I even tweeted when I got home. I tried to my share of convincing too, I wanted some of the people that I spent the week with to consider moving to Philadelphia. I even though—hey, maybe we could plant a church in Lancaster!

I want to talk about the feelings that surround moving more than whether one should or shouldn’t. Here are three basic reasons that someone might feel a certain way about moving: first, it’s personal, second, our upbringing, and third, that fact that you matter.

Paul mentions moving. He says that he’s with us no matter what, in Spirit. But that he longs to be with us, even when he’s gone. That “body” and “spirit” framework is important.

Present is better than absent.We are not Emails, tweets, or posts, we are people. It does matter when we are physically together. We gain intimacy through presence—that’s why a text message or a video chat doesn’t cut it. That’s why a long distance relationship can be hard. 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.

It is a personal thing. Someone recently asked me how I was feeling, and I told him my heart was heavy because I was thinking about some folks that left the church and eventually moved out of town a while ago. Turns out that the person that asked me about how I was feeling wasn’t really ready to “get real,” if you will. I think he just wanted a how-are-you-good conversation to happen.

He wasn’t sure I needed to take someone moving away personally and I was surprised by that. I guess we could live in a world where we don’t take anything personally. And once someone asserts him or herself—expresses a negative emotion, the conversation becomes about them and how they’ve done something wrong. But just because someone’s sad doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Or just because someone’s sad doesn’t mean they are overly sensitive or something. That might have been true in the household that you grew up in, but it doesn’t need to be true here.

People can be genuinely sad when someone moves. Paul, when he left Ephesus in Acts 20, had a similar experience. They were crying on the beach as he left.

If you end up leaving town because you are a Christian and God wants you to do it, people are questioning you and wondering about it. I am sure your parents, if you live far enough away from them, wish you were closer to them. I was having dinner with a friend’s mom and dad recently, and they told me to plant a church in their neighborhood so that their son and daughter-in-law might come home (I was thinking, I think I’m actually trying to get you all to move to Philadelphia and I then mentioned how nice Mt. Airy was).

You are important and you are emotional. In community, you might have developed and often built something with others and that’s why “leaving” is a huge deal! So if you leave, your friends might take it personally.

I think it’s good to be able to articulate personal feelings about why someone is leaving without making them feel like they are idiots for doing it. As if anyone should know that they are never leaving the moment they sign a one-year lease! I think that happens sometimes, and I am sorry for that.

A lot of these issues form out of our upbringing. I did a lot work personally for about three years regarding issues that I developed through my upbringing. Psychologists and therapists call those “attachment” issues. Here’s one study an American psychologist named Mary Ainsworth did. She’s an expert on “attachment theory,” and I am not. My friend who is getting a doctorate in family counseling told me about this.

He told me 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 (has someone ever asked you to follow them into the bathroom or wondered what you were all talking about when they left the room?). These kind of people might be like one type of baby 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 their 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. I want you to know that that’s what’s going on and let the person experience it—it doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong, necessarily. It doesn’t mean you are doing something right either, just because someone is particularly sensitive.

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 percent of the Ainsworth’s babies, when their 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.

I think these well-intentioned people are really trying to get to point that you matter. We live in a transient world, in transient neighborhoods, with transient people. We are actually doing something real together and it’s not always so easy, truth be told, and everything you do matters!

It’s hard to know that your body and spirit matter. That you are part of something bigger than yourself, while also realizing that you are not replaceable. How do we balance that difficulty? I don’t think it’s so easy all the time.

I think we are prone to thinking of ourselves too highly, or not considering how important we are. And the sad thing is, some folks think that “less with connect,” the less we matter. God loves you no matter what, and around here, you’ll find people that love you matter what. That’s a hard reality to graph.

In the church, that’s why a lot of our folks can’t make it to a cell or make a covenant or even come to PMs regularly. You’ll be known and loved, and probably get into trouble and feel pain and disappointment. Just getting to a cell, just keeping a relationship going, is hard enough. It’s hard to trust, it’s hard to love. Secure people usually understand that there is enough love to go around, but not everyone thinks that way. About half of the population is going to have difficulty when a It’cell multiplies. Sometimes the whole congregation multiplies. Then you might move away. A lot of times people think that when a cell multiplies, it’s a good time to break out yourself. A lot of our insecurities about people important people who are loved emerge when it comes to our fear of making commitments.

Relationships work that way too. Once intimacy starts, people’s personal self-esteem becomes 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.

The goal for us is to be our true selves. You need to be able to say “I am who I am.” You are OK like that, and we need to get to a place where we feel the freedom that comes with that self-worth and identity in Jesus. But at the same time, life in Christ isn’t just personal. It’s bigger than that. You can be intimate, and be part of the “we.” You can choose to connect or leave, obviously.

I want us to get a grasp of this as a body. Someone being upset that you are leaving is OK—their reasons may be good to God or not. I wouldn’t just cut them off (or cut off someone who is leaving—who many also have reasons that are good to God or not). Let’s keep relating. The relationship won’t be the same and it’s important to note that. You make a difference, believe that.

4 Replies to “Can I ever move?

    1. I’m not sure what is up with that. But I’ll try to respond. First, I do think this is pretty straightforward Christian relating and Biblical application. Sometimes we need to do and be the Word of God, more than we need to systemically lay it out. (But we do our fair share of that too–in fact, just finished a seven-part series on John!)

      Second, I think my whole life is a Biblical exegesis! What I’m talking about really is the importance of knowing that we are both body and spirit–just like Paul did to the Corinthians and Romans (and many others). We are both in the world physically, and made for another one. Just like Jesus. We are incarnationally revealing Jesus to the world now. It’s an amazing process and journey.

      Third, this whole thing gets messy (like someone saying this isn’t Bible exegesis), we think of how we were raised, our negative emotions, and even the fact that intimacy is important and hard for us. Being the church together, applying the Bible, and doing the work of following Jesus is Circle of Hope’s mission to the world–and I think we take it that seriously!

  1. i’m really bummed i slept through this PM. what a silly reason not to show up!

    this is a great talk, jonny. it gets us thinking about the hearts of these issues, and the complicated interactions that happen between people who are trying to love each other intentionally– everyone is bringing their own history, attachment styles, and fears into it.

    i think one of the most beautiful things about people leaving is the pain we feel. we feel this pain because the connection and the love and the friendship is so real! this is true of all mourning… the depth of our mourning can wreck us.. but we could never mourn so deeply if we had not at one point loved so deeply, and experienced such beauty. it’s at this point that the grace of god steps in, and trust in the “bigger thing.”

    thanks for sharing this, jonny. its really beautiful.

  2. I love how you work out your feelings by processing them with others, Jonny. It’s brave and humble. Thanks for validating feeling sad about our friends leaving town. Thanks for giving us perspective on the issue too.

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