But wait a minute - if our communities grow in tangles rather than rows, isn't that...messy? Painful? Hard? Most of us recognize right away, perhaps even from personal experience, that growing our communities in tangles doesn't keep some members from uprooting themselves. It doesn't keep some from leaving. It doesn't keep some from believing they live in rows, even when we know better.
That's true. Because of the way that human life is, and human nature, community is always going to get messy. It's even messier when it's all tangled together and has grown in such a way that one set of roots or branches cannot be pulled without pulling on others.
That by no means serves as a reason not to do it.
There are a number of reasons that persons may leave our communities, and we should be aware of them - not so that we can guard ourselves against becoming "too" entangled with those who might leave (we never could, for it could be nearly anyone at nearly any time), but so that when it does happen, we can understand why and use that as a balm for moving forward.
Someone might leave our community because they are spiritually immature and haven't grown into the tangles yet themselves. Thus, they believe they are planted in a row and that it's nothing to anyone if they move on and find a different place before they settle in and start to put down roots. If we are a community that grows in tangles and we have invited them to stay and belong, this should not bother us. It certainly shouldn't bother us nearly as much as it does. It's easy to get offended that someone would say, early on, that our community isn't really for them, but the truth is that everyone is looking for something particular that is vital for their own soul, and some communities are better at some things than at others. We should celebrate with and pray for someone who says they need something different in community than we excel at and goes off to find it; they are looking for a place to grow tangled into God's fold.
Now, if they are leaving God's community altogether, then we have some work to do. But if they're just going on to a different place before they get as tangled up with us as we already have with them (because we're tanglers), then God bless them.
Someone might leave our community because they are quite literally leaving our community. God may call them or lead them or life might drag them to a new physical location where it is no longer viable for them to remain physically in our tangles. In some of the best ways that I've seen this happen, they do not really become untangled from us...ever. They remain a part of our community, even from a distance, although the best of them also find a new community wherever they are. This is how tangles work. When life pulls you one way, your tangles hold you down, and you never really leave, even though you're gone. These are a persons we must hold near and dear and make efforts to continue to include, persons we must continue to talk with, to pray for, and to share our lives with because they are still a vital part of it...and they have even more lives in which they are a vital part now. It's hard to have them gone, but they continue to broaden and deepen our tangles in new and wonderful ways and connect us more powerfully to God's people all over the world.
But there are a couple ways that someone might leave our community that just plain hurt, that are hard to move on past, that are nearly impossible to "get over." One of these ways is through petty differences and the other is through death. Both are eerily the same. The truth is that some persons are going to leave our community when something changes that they don't like or maybe that they're just scared of, whether that change is big or small. Persons have left churches over changes in leadership or name or worship style or the like, and they have also left churches over changes in the color of the carpet or whether the toilet paper hangs correctly. And some persons, of course, die.
This is where the tangles really, really hurt. Because these persons, when they leave, rip something out of us that we never quite get back. They tear up our own tangles because we never forget what we're missing without them. When situations arise or when our hearts ache, we know exactly who we ought to turn to to step into that place, but they're not there any more. I've been through two major church splits with my congregation already, and even now, more than a decade later, when certain things come up, I say to myself, "You know who'd be great for that? Oh...never mind. They aren't here any more." Or when I'm wrestling with something in my own life, I know just who I should talk to...but they're gone. Some of them are dead; some of them have moved on to the church down the road and just don't want to talk to me any more because I'm in that community and they've cut their ties here (or so they think).
It's not easy. In fact, I think tangled community is one of the most difficult things in all of life to do. And for this very reason, because not everyone is tangled to the same degree. Because it seems so easy for some to just pull up roots and leave and not think about what that does to the rest of us. Because being tangled forever pulls on our own souls and spirits and it's not always "fun."
But it's holy.
It's the way God designed it, at least, the tangles part is. The pain that we feel with it, that's the fall. But community is God's design, and God's design doesn't change just because we mess it up. It doesn't change just because we're not perfectly good at it. It doesn't change just because we've ruined it in sin. It's still His design. And it's still good and beautiful and holy. And worth it.
In fact, it's the only possible way to do it, to do life. We can only ever do it together.