Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Truly Loving Those Who Leave

When someone comes to believe that they are not giving up something of eternal significance if they leave the Church, it is perfectly understandable that they would choose to opt out. If that really is their perspective, and if it leads them to choose to leave, we should give them a sincere hug, tell them honestly that we will pray for them on their own journey - and then treat them in the exact same way we would if they remained among us.

They know how we view their choice - the disappointment we feel. We don't need to throw it in their faces. Rather, we need to do what Jesus commanded and love them just as if they still were meeting with us. Leaving the Church shouldn't change a thing about our relationship - except the association we lose on Sunday and other non-church related activities.


Matt W. said...


Not everyone can do this. It's all fine to say love them the same afterward, but the fact is, when someone falls away, those casually familiar with the situation do not only feel disappointed, they feel deeply betrayed. Why? In part because the person transitioning out of the faith has isolated themselves from them.In part because suddenly the person is using things they've said and done as reasons the church is bad.In part because this person they felt in sync with and thought they could rely on as part of their community (or family), has quit, and left a hole that has to be filled.

In a lot of cases, it is a spouse that leaves, and then this leaves the other spouse attempting to do all the church with the children.

So I guess my challenge to you Ray, is to truly love those who are left behind by those who leave.

Papa D said...

I agree, Matt, with the pretty much everything you said. I understand that what I have described is not easy or natural - that it is very difficult. I also understand that in some situations (like those where the person leaving is actively oppositional, defiant and/or antagonistic) this actually might be impossible at first.

I generally don't like to use "should" - since it too often becomes a hammer that is wielded to cause guilt. However, when someone leaves the Church I do believe strongly that we need to strive earnestly to continue to love them *unconditionally* - and that term includes conditions relative to their church activity and actions toward the Church.

Finally, to reiterate, I also believe we need to not judge those who are left within the Church to struggle with the effects of others leaving. We "shouldn't" use "should" to browbeat or condemn them if they can't live the ideal in this post - especially if the leaving involved serious sin and/or betrayal of some kind.

This is not a one-sides issue, even if I only addressed one side in the post. Thank you for bringing up the other side.

MB said...

Matt, you are accurate in your description of the pain and the need for support and love in the lives of those left. As for loving the departing soul, I must say I do believe everyone can do this. But it is not done instantly. It is not done from a position of vulnerability to abuse either. But it can be done.

My experience is that the more intimately involved in your life the person is, the greater is your sense of abandonment. It takes time to recover your sense of equilibrium, to put your trust in God, to remap your path, to lose the anxiety or sense of betrayal. Sometimes it takes years. However, I must side with Ray. The key is to love them in spite of your reeling sense of rejection, to act in loving ways in spite of your hurt and, often, in the face of their psychological need to justify their decision by deriding things you hold dear. Been there, seen it. Absolutely it's hard. But it's also absolutely necessary. Jesus demonstrated it.

Give yourself time. Allow yourself time to fully acknowledge the damage done and to grieve and to reate a safe situation however you can. Pray for love you don't feel. Act it. It will come. And it's TOTALLY worth working towards it hand in hand with God, even though in the early stages you don't think you could ever possibly get there. You can. In spite of the ache you feel now. And it's empowering.