When I started to be drawn into a new relationship with God, I began to question previously held beliefs that I now felt expanding and including more of God’s love and mystery. This questioning was a way of sifting through my old way of being and determining what would come with me into my new way of being. Jesus tells us to put new wine in new bottles, and that takes some time and a lot of faith as we trust God to help us sort and grow.
On the inside, I drifted between self-doubt driven by the judgement of others and incredible confidence and faith driven by an overwhelmingly peaceful sense of being loved. It can seem messy at times, and the more I live with faith the more God’s mystery unfolds. It’s beautiful, and exciting, and unspeakable. I found myself smiling seemingly randomly at the simplest things, and seeing joy in the overlooked wonders of the world.
On the outside, it probably looked like I was drifting in confusion sometimes because I could find words for the periods of self-doubt but I couldn’t always find words for the mystery. I’ve gotten better at that, but in the meantime, others continue to judge, or rather misjudge, and my universal belonging is confronted by a feeling of being on the outside of groups I was once deeply involved with. Only others who are going through a similar transition can really understand what it feels like, and even then, each path is so unique. Embracing non-judgement as part of this new way of being becomes paramount.
Then, the inevitable happens. Someone starts to really worry and the question of the day becomes, “Are you going to leave?” Their worries fueled my self-doubt and I became absorbed by the staying or leaving question instead of habitually resting in the mystery of God’s love unfolding all around me. I guess I have to make a decision, but it feels like an impossibly unfair ultimatum.
Why is our community plagued by this question of leaving or staying? Why do we act like Christ’s church is a place with finite and well-established walls that one can either be in or out of? How is the gospel supposed to roll throughout the whole world as long as we are constantly defining and redefining the in-group and the out-group?
Will I leave or will I stay is a bad question.
Our path through life is not a matter of being in or out. Our path meanders through life’s opportunities, no moment ever repeating itself exactly as it was before. Even if we were to try to perfectly recreate an event or place, who we are today would influence how we show up with it, and we would create new memories, not relive old ones.
The paths created through time by the lives of others, and by the groups of lives we interact with, cross our paths in a beautiful parabolic dance. Some run tangent to ours for a long time and permanently influence the slope of our curves. Others cross briefly and suddenly, but leave no small mark. Others cross over and over and over again, each time something new and amazing. Still others come close but don’t touch, a life lived in a world apart, asymptotically separated by time, space, or culture, yet observable and impactful.
The whole world is a living breathing thing. And my journey through life is also a living breathing thing. Even if I circle back around to something I once knew, I am a different person now, and I can’t expect everything to be as it was. Sometimes this feels sad, but with faith I can sense that the impermanence is actually a gift.
So, asking someone if they are going to leave or stay isn’t the right question. Maybe it should be, “What are you passing through right now?” or, “What do you feel drawn to?” or even just, “Can I help?”
Because asking me if I’m going to leave makes me think that maybe leaving or staying is a thing, and that maybe I need to decide if I’m in or out. But the universe I’m called to is so much bigger than that. There are no ins and outs. I’m neither leaving nor staying. I’m passing through. And while I’m here I’m going to show up. I’m going to ground myself in God’s love, and then bring that with me as the light of love for others wherever I am on my path.
Nothing in our finite world is permanent. And everything in our finite world is infinitely less than the infinite love and grace God is pouring into the world. Possessions come and go. Health comes and goes. Moments come and go. Relationships often come and go. Everything ebbing and flowing with the tides of God’s ocean of love. Only this expansive oneness is permanent.
I want to live in that vastness, where everything belongs, there are no tribes, and beauty speaks from every rock and every tree and every smile. I won’t be afraid of impermanence on the path. I’ll show up with everything the good Lord has given me, because I know I’m passing through it all with God as my guide. And however long I’m here, I’m going to really be here.