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Showing care and love without alienating

September 11, 2009

If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it leaves you, it was never meant to be.

I don’t know how often this quote is used, but I’m guessing it’s grossly underutilized. And I’ll probably mangle it in this article, but I’ve been playing around with this concept with relation to caring and love, especially with Mormon family and friends’ reactions to a loved one’s falling away from the church. For example, I have been reading Marcus and Hypatia‘s latest few blog entries…it seems the fallout has arrived with both sets of parents finding out about this couple’s nonbelief in the church.

The parents’ various responses have been candid, somewhat familiar, but also unfortunate. No one needs hysterial mothers. No one needs accusations, huge letters, or love bombing (if that comes…)

It just seems to me that people often forget something. Maybe this is like…ancient eastern esoteric wisdom or something…but to achieve a goal, we often have to work seemingly unintuitively.

For example, Hypatia and Marcus’s respective sets of parents want them to come back to the church. They want this so much that some (the mothers, it seems) will write scathing emails to try to scare them back into repentance. They might say the worst things about their motives. About what they think will happen to the marriage, the children, or them (especially when eternity is involved). They aren’t trying to be nasty, even if it might seem that way. In actuality, they are doing the best they know how to entice these guys back into the church (and ultimately, their goal is their children’s happiness…which they most likely believe is eternally tied with standing in the church.)

…This is so unfortunate. Since these are Marcus’s and Hypatia’s parents, M and H are quite patient with their mothers and fathers. They don’t snap back. Marcus had a rather peaceful letter drafted in response in one of his comments.

But regardless, it is so unfortunate that this forward, conditioned, hectic reaction from the parents will probably do little to help.

In a paniced situation — and this probably would count as a panic situation for Hypatia and Marcus’s parents — people sometimes do things harder and sloppier. Run as fast as they can or hit as hard as they can.

But even though there is care and love here, this is alienating. Sorry to say, but hitting hard raises defensive walls (maybe not so much in H and M’s case…but with nonfamily, sure it will.) What better way is there to make someone defensive and then potentially lose them to hardheartedness and pride than simply to try and call them out as being these things? Calling someone proud, a sinner, hardhearted, or whatever is the quickest way to inadvertently raise walls sky high. So, even if the person wasn’t closed off to begin with, they might get that way as a result. (And then, it’s the accuser’s fault…not the accused. The accused was simply defending themselves and their position!)

To try to reach someone (without alienating them), one must let go. Let go of accusations. Let go of the need to change the person immediately. And ultimately, let go of the need for change. Love and care must shine through. I don’t know how to impress this upon anyone, because it’s really something that cannot be impressed…but really…if Hypatia and Marcus’s parents do want to see even the possibility of their children’s return to the church, then they must let go of this goal. Pushing and pushing them to the church will actually push them away. Or, if they give in (and many people DO give in) and decide to go to church to appease family…then that will be a hollow victory for family and friends…because the accused will be miserable. They will be living a lie for the sake of appeasing family.

But it’s hard to let go. It is hard to love someone unconditionally (perhaps even impossible…some conditions always stick. I can think of several “conditions” that I wouldn’t say a reasonable parent should “let go.”) It’s hard to say, “I love you regardless of if you are doing the ONE thing I feel is eternally most important, and I’m willing to let you free, with the possibility that might never come back if it is not meant to be.” But even in the case of certain nonnegotiable conditions, one must realize that pushing and accusing raises walls. It is counterintuitive.

I think a side effect of this love-lets-go attitude is something that helps all sides. I think it clarifies what matters. Because when one truly “lets go,” then one possibly has time to reevaluate priorities. Perhaps one can see that by backing off, the family relationship is healthier than ever. Perhaps, one can see that for some, peace and joy can be found outside of the church.

If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back to you, do not despair. If your love be perfect, it must find joy in realizing that the freedom you afforded your cherished thing brought it joy and peace.

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  1. It’s interesting to note the differences in reaction between members of our family and our ward. Our mothers, as we wrote, went into a fierce emotional reaction calling down condemnation and the like trying to scare us back. As you said they did this out of love, based upon their perceptions of how to deal with the situation.

    My dad, who is a former bishop, and our current bishop took the whole situation in a drastically different way. They listened and offered their love and support. Naturally my dad said he was concerned and a little disappointed, but there was no hell fire and damnation, only a mutually enlightening conversation on the same level.

    I suspect that comes form the experience of being a Bishop and realizing how the world works. Either they realize that love is the only way to reach some one who is “lost” or they also have a more complex view of the church and can see our point of view. I think it’s a little of both in my father’s case.

    It’s still and interesting observation.

  2. I agree with this post.

    You may (or may not) know that this is also the recommendation for parents and loved ones of addicts and alcoholics. So yeah, for a parent, it’s hard to let go – particularly when letting go (in an addict or alcoholic situation) may mean death for the child/loved one. And what parent wants that?

    To some extent, a child leaving, from a believer perspective, can mean “spiritual” death for that child, which could be painful (for the believer).

    But, with that said, I personally believe that the let go attitude can bring peace. Letting an adult make their own choices and accept their own consequences. Easier said that done.

    It rests on the belief that you cannot control another person, you can only control yourself.

    When a person accepts that each person has their own path…I think it can strengthen the relationship. At least, each person gets to re-evaluate to figure out what they want from the relationship.

  3. Marcus,

    My parent’s reaction were very similar. On several occasions my mother was very emotional and tried to persuade us that our decision not to attend would have negative consequences for our 5 children.

    My father on the other hand (who has also been a bishop and European history professor) said that he knew of the historical problems, but had a testimony and that felt that the church did a lot of good. The other interesting thing he did was to try to minimize the damage our leaving would do to my other siblings views of the church by writing an apologetic like letter to them, also bearing his testimony.

    They mostly don’t bring up the church when we interact with them now, but I can still see and underlying sadness in my mother’s eyes. Thanks for sharing Andrew & Marcus.


  4. This makes me sad for all parties involved. Especially for the parents, and the pain they have brought on themselves, which is revealed in their reactions.

  5. Rich,

    The fact that we also have a child was a huge factor for our mothers to freak out. My wife’s mother made rather unsavory predictions about my daughter, now that we’re not going to church. I won’t repeat them here.

    My own mother seemed more distraught over my daughter than me. She went on to say that unless you take a child to church every single Sunday and make them do everything they’re supposed to in the church, they’ll never believe. That struck me as a very odd statement. Maybe that says something about the fact that the church needs to be hammered in to young minds, otherwise it just doesn’t work. ( we’ll it eventually didn’t work for me)

    To be fair she was very distraught and I don’t think she was reasoning very well. That, and I understand its important to teach children virtue in their formidable years. The comments just seemed to support the idea of indoctrination, and rubbed me the wrong way.

    In any case both seemed to be upset that we were affecting generations of our progeny, that they would wallow and suffer in darkness. How could we be so selfish?

    So, kids always complicate matters.

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