I have written the last two weeks about leaving by the back door – the incident in life that prompted these musings was not at church. But the parallels to how people leave our faith communities is strong. And the same can be said for lodges, Scout troops, Rotary clubs and the like. For a final week I write about the process of leaving – next week I want to start reflecting on what to do about it.
The thing that I realized this week is that people who leave by the back doors of our churches and other groups have already grieved the loss of their connection with us They have been hurt in some way (usually) and have agonized over their decisions (often). They have grieved what could have been and what is lost. They have waited for some sign to stay. Some change that would say to them “Wait, remain here!”
But they reach the end of the journey out the door and they have already moved on to new things. Or at the very least left behind our group. If I am right, it explains why it is so hard to stop folks who reach a certain place. They have passed through their grief. They have found peace or at least resignation. And to turn back would be too much.
I don’t know that I am right about any of this leaving stuff. I know it speaks to my experience in other places and settings. What to do about it if we are responsible for keeping that back door closed and people from that back hallway?
Last week I wrote about the long hallway people take to break from institutions and groups (The Long Hallway to the Backdoor). This hallway from the place of active connection and involvement has one significant feature – it is empty. Other than, of course, the person walking its length.
When folks move away from a group (and this includes I think families and friendships as much as formal associations), they make this journey alone. Their isolation is one of the key features of that move away. I notice them on Sunday morning’s. They are the people who avoid the line to shake the pastor’s hand. They sit, even if they are a family, by themselves, cut off from those around them. They come at the last minute and leave as soon as worship ends.
The long hallway begins with this isolation. When a person or family finds themselves in that long hallway to the back door, they are already alone. Already disconnected. Already feeling that sense of loss and loneliness that will find its final expression in walking through the door. Even when a person leaves in anger or frustration, isolation is still at its core – feeling like others don’t care, feeling alone in thinking or believing a certain way.
I don’t have good answers for how we help people stay away from the backdoor. I am also painfully aware my own sense of dislocation and grief over walking through such a door (although not a church one). But I do sense that the empty hallway can be avoided or blocked.
The last ten days have been, let us say, overwhelming. So I am a week behind on blogging.
Last week I posted on Facebook that I had deleted a long-standing commitment from my calendar. It represented many years of friendship, effort, and loyalty. It was hard to do. But necessary. Sometimes, something – a group, a relationship, a habit – robs us of life instead of giving it, Steals our joy instead of bringing it.
This situation took a long time to deteriorate. I didn’t wake up that morning and in anger say ‘I am done.’ I did say that day as I wrestled with my feelings and frustrations ‘I have had enough.’
As a pastor I realized this happens in the church. Sometimes people get angry or hurt in moment and walk away from a local church. But more often, I think, they leave slowly. They experience many small moments of frustration, hurt, exasperation. Not all of these can be helped or known. And we shouldn’t fret endlessly about how any decision will hurt people’s feelings or anger them.
It does mean that we should keep an eye on that long hallway to the back door through people most often exit – quietly, even silently. They don’t start down the hall to leave. They don’t set out to separate from the group. But when they find themselves far down the hall and close to that door, they sometimes slip unnoticed through it.