Settling down on the train, I replay the conversation in my head.
It just got a bit hard, he said, when he hit his mid-twenties and the conventional wedding/kids/property route wasn’t the one he was walking. When his work with the poor raised a different set of questions to those addressed on Sundays.
His decision to ‘not be in a church at the moment’ had, apparently, been a long time coming.
It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve got quite a collection of friends whose questions, disappointments and struggles have moved them to the periphery. Some have climbed up the perimeter fence and are sitting on it. Others have hopped over to the other side to see if the grass really is greener. Some, like him, glance back. Others are long gone. Most have been somewhat wistful, or hurt, or angry, that no one ran out to them at the boggy borders of the camp when they started wandering away.
I get where they’re coming from. In fact, I’m sort of still there, at their point of departure. In the corner of a community, a family, which I so often want to run from but which I stick with because I’m not really where else I would go.
Can this help me explain why I feel more drawn to the people on the edges? Could it be because in them I recognise something of my own questions, my longings, my hurts, my frustrations? The loneliness experienced, if not articulated, by my self-defined ‘post-evangelical’ friends?
In thinking about this, I move on to a question that often goes round my head. How can I fully go out on a limb to stand with the marginalised ‘other’ without, as my friends have done for a range of reasons, severing the connection with the body? How can I can I truly love and identify with people who are outside the community without losing who I am, without losing myself?
The words catch me short. Without losing myself?
Where, I suddenly wonder, did I get the idea that it should be easy? That it wouldn’t cost something? Wouldn’t cost everything?
Who, I ask myself, is the ‘me’ that I’m trying not to lose? Is it the expected ‘me’ who has to fight cultural assumptions that the marriage/kids/house/career route is the most valid path, and one which possibly I would want for myself? Is it the ‘me’ who is has subconsciously bought into the idea that life is all about now and all about me? Maybe my friends and I are losing our way because we’re forgetting what true life really is?
By seeking to loosen my grip on some of the expectations and pressures that I hadn’t even realised I’d bought into then perhaps – just perhaps? – I’ll find it again.
And maybe I’ll rediscover the freedom that comes from losing what I can’t keep to save that which I can’t lose?