The text arrives late morning when my coffee’s gone cold. I stare at my phone, punch in letters with my right thumb to respond, then hit delete until the sentence disappears. I read my friend’s message again: Did you know so-and-so is leaving our church because they don’t agree with wearing masks?
I feel the same ache I felt in first grade when my eonni (older sister in Korean) moved out, or later, when a close friend decided there were cooler people to hang out with, and every other time anyone left or threatened to leave because conditions weren’t right for them. The ache peeks out from my insides like a sharp needle.
I wasn’t close to the family my friend and I text about, but this announcement only piles on top of a growing stack of other “I’m leaving,” announcements. In the last seven months of this pandemic, some have pulled together, and others have fallen apart. Small groups have broken up, unsatisfied families have pulled their kids from schools, friends have distanced themselves from each other over opinions about masks, the election, social distancing, who to blame for everything and anything wrong under the sun, personal transitions, racism, and human rights.
This isn’t just about other people leaving and disagreements though. Last month, I told two of my dear neighbor friends that we’re moving. Our kids have played together and run barefoot from our house to their backyards since they were chubby toddlers. We’ve watched and cried over each other’s kids, shared important news where the grass of our yards meet, prayed in our pajamas on the sidewalk that connects our driveways, and left gifts and meals and cookies on each other’s doorsteps. These relationships were a large part of why we thought we’d always stay where we were, no matter how our family grew in size. For years, I was proud of the fact that we chose community over our home size — maybe too proud.
Telling these dear mom friends that we were choosing to move away from all of this in a few weeks, no matter how close our new home would still be, broke something in me.
I complain to my husband about how I think leaving over masks is absurd. I say my anger is about the insanity of that kind of decision over a piece of cloth, when it’s really about the shock of how little it can take to separate people.
I hear threads of shame in my voice when I talk about moving for more space, when I’ve decidedly been someone who’s scoffed at the American belief that bigger is better for years. I wrestle with my doubts of choosing something bigger even though I know it’ll be better for our family of five and our new work and home life situation now. I feel like I should just be able to figure it out, work through my shame, and be a good spiritual person. But I can’t. I sit in the tension and exhaust myself in the wrestling, and I realize I’m not that different from anyone else.
My anger and shame keep rising to the surface. They twist together into one thick strand, like a rope. I try to tether it to something familiar, but there’s nothing to tie it to. I’m forced to hold on and feel my way back to where the strands begin with loss, fear, and pride. I unravel them, one tangle at a time.
Everywhere I look, I see confirmation of this common experience: we are tangled and we are untethered. We are no longer grounded in all the ways we once took for granted, and we are tangled up tight in our fears. Our idols have been exposed, our rifts have come uncovered, and we stand face to face with the reality of our common fragility. Our platitudes, empty praise, and hollow relationships may not survive these times of fracture and floating without a fight.
Instead of grasping for control or frantically looking for silver linings in the middle of a storm that won’t relent, let’s bind ourselves to the only thing sturdy enough to anchor all of our wild hearts home. When we make decisions about staying or leaving, let’s be courageous enough to face our feelings and fears, and remember that any freedom we’ve been given hasn’t been given as a right to keep but as an opportunity to serve one another in love.
I sit still in the fog of sadness that surrounds continued losses. In my lament, God graciously re-tethers my heart towards hope, one honest prayer at a time. What if we did the same for one another? The sad faced emojis have moved to the front of my most used emojis over the last few months, but maybe that’s okay if I let the pain speak truth.
No matter what falls apart and what still remains, Christ’s love cannot be untethered from us, and that is the foundation where all good things can grow and begin again.