Thomas Nelson / W
Your mother and I have been talking about how different you seem this summer compared with last summer before you went off to college. It has occurred to us that by our seeing you only occasionally now we see more clearly the changes that are taking place in your life. The gaps between our time together actually make these changes more distinct. There is an air about you—a sophistication—that wasn’t there when you left for college a year ago. I guess you are really growing up.
You are in the stage of life when you “leave home”—and when you learn that leaving home is a whole lot more about emotional separation than it is about geography. Change is what this stage is all about.
You’re supposed to be making the creative leap from dependence to independence—from being reliant upon us to being reliant upon yourself. You are supposed to leave us. I guess that’s what we’re seeing you do.
There’s something else I have noticed. Though you are “leaving,” you have not totally “left.” I can tell this by several things. The first is the four-hundred-dollar long-distance phone bills we’ve accrued in the past year. Another is the drain on my bank account. Scientists tell us there’s a great black hole somewhere in space. Anything that gets too close to this hole, they speculate, will be sucked into it. Actually, I think this great black hole is located seven hundred miles west of Nashville in Oklahoma. At least something out there keeps sucking all my money away. I will know you have really left home when the drain on my bank account ceases.
All of this tells me that leaving home is a process. It’s a lot like making the trip back to school, Paige. You don’t just hop in your car in Nashville, start the engine, and then immediately arrive in Oklahoma. There are stops and starts along the way, towns and cities to pass through, and even occasional detours to be encountered—all en route to your final destination. I guess you won’t leave home in one giant step, either. I know you will gradually “wean” yourself away from us. But it will be the result of many small steps—some forward and others backward—until finally you are on your own.
Living with you this summer has been different from last summer. It was supposed to be. It will be even more different next summer. Who knows? You may even decide not to come home at all! You may choose instead to go to Europe for that special “educational” experience or pursue an internship in another city or just stay in Oklahoma and work so you can be close to the friends you’ve made in college. Next summer is still a long way off. But even to entertain these possibilities tells me you are leaving. I will miss you when you are gone. But it’s what you are supposed to do, it’s what you need to do, and it’s what we have raised you to do.
Thinking of you when you aren’t here,
I was meeting with a group of engaged couples, all of them college students in the lovedecisions stage of life and all very interested in knowing more about marriage. We were talking about relationships that last. Everyone in the group was “in love,” and as expected whenever youth and love are combined, a special electricity sizzled through the air. Each of our sessions had been marked with high energy, lots of positive emotions, and plenty of conversation.
We had already discussed how marriage is a complex union—not as simple as some might think—and we had spent a lot of time identifying some of the characteristics that make up healthy relationships. Then I asked my couples this question: “Have you really left home?”
All of a sudden, the conversation came to a grinding halt. And poof! The electric atmosphere disappeared, too! What had caused the change? I quickly scanned their faces for a possible clue. Was the question too personal? As I tried to interpret their expressions, I discerned that the common response did not seem to be embarrassment but confusion, as if they were asking, Why would he ask such a crazy question—one with such an obvious answer? After all, they were college students who would be graduating in just a few months. They lived in dorms and apartments, obviously not under the watchful eye of Mom and Dad. And they lived a long way from home—some as much as several thousand miles. So they were confused. Yet I stuck with my question and again asked: “Have you really left home?”
I pressed the question because I believe the answer is very important. It has great implications for whether a marriage will ultimately be successful. I also believe Scripture supports the importance of this question and has a lot to tell us, not only about the question, but also about the answer.
God’s design for marriage is given to us very early in Scripture. Genesis 2:24 records, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (my italics). Frequently referred to as the “leave-and-cleave passage,” this verse presents two distinct, though related, concepts. A person leaves (detaches), and a person cleaves (attaches). Though I’ll spend some time in later chapters discussing what it actually means for a person to cleave in a relationship, what is important to the question that I asked my premarital group is the leave portion of this verse.
By design, you are to leave home. Scripture clearly connects the two distinct concepts of detaching and attaching because you cannot accomplish one unless you have successfully accomplished the other.
You are supposed to leave and cleave.
You have to leave before you can cleave.
You have to leave in order to cleave.
The overriding principle from Scripture for anyone thinking about marriage is this: You are not ready to attach until you have first detached. This is not a compatibility issue—but a marriageability issue. You are not ready to marry anyone (you are not marriageable)—regardless of how well you “fit” together (which is a compatibility issue)—until you have truly left home.
As I continued to ask my premarital couples this question, they all continued to answer yes—for a while. But after I explained the leave-and-cleave process, they were not so sure. I could tell they had some doubts because they were saying things like, “Yes, I think I have,” and “I thought I had, but now I’m not totally sure.” What made them hesitant was that they were having a hard time coming up with any real proof to back up their yes answers. They needed evidence and finally decided I was asking the wrong question. They suggested a better question would be, “How do you know if you’ve really left home? Where’s the proof?” Changing the question like this was a good leap because it enabled the couples to move away from simply making guesses to actually looking at the facts.
Before attempting to do the hard part, identifying the indications that they had really left home, they decided to do the easy part, identifying some things that are not indications. The first they agreed on was age. Though age may tell you when you’re supposed to leave home, it’s not by itself an indication that you’ve actually done it. You can be thirty years old and still be tied to home. Another factor they agreed on was being in college. Sure, there are responsibilities that go with being in college. And oftentimes you have to geographically leave home to get there. But everyone agreed that being away from home is not the same as leaving home. A final area of agreement was marriage. You’d like to think that getting married meant you had left home. But we’ve all seen too many contradictions of that supposition.
Though age, being in college, or even being married does not assure you that you’ve left home, there are other things you can look to as indications that this has been accomplished. Assessing whether you’ve left home does not have to be left to guesswork. You can know.
There are actually several factors I look to in deciding whether you have really left home. But the most important seems to be the role your parents play in the decisions you make. When I suggested to my group of engaged couples that they had not yet left home if they continued to allow their parents to unduly influence their decisions, I got a wide range of responses.
On one extreme was the girl who told how she had bought a car completely on her own. She shopped around, looking at a bunch of models on several lots. After selecting what she thought was the best deal, she worked out her own financing and drove off with her new car. This was all done without any consultation from her parents. Her story prompted more confusion and some concerned responses like, “But I value my parents’ advice. Does this mean I haven’t left home?”
Let me help clarify the confusion. Whenever I’m dealing with the issue of your parents’ influence on your life, my concern is always with the degree of their influence. Let’s face it: Your parents are always going to influence your life—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They can give you a lot of good input. But the real question becomes, Is it just input, or is it more than that? Do your parents overly influence (or control) your decisions, or are they merely providing you with helpful information you then use in your own decision-making process? The difference makes all the difference because overinfluence is an example of dependency—and an indication that you haven’t yet left home. A dependent you will do what they want you to do because you don’t want to cross them (or disappoint them or make them angry, etc.). But an independent you will accept their input as helpful data. You will consider their advice along with anything else you find helpful. And after due deliberation, you will make your own decision, regardless of what others thought was best. That’s what independent adults who have left home do.
Sometimes it’s easy to see that you haven’t completely left home. You readily see how you’re still more concerned with what your parents think is best instead of what you think. But in some situations dependency is not so easy to see. Sometimes you’re still unduly influenced, and you just don’t know it. This is the case when you confuse leaving with geography, cutting yourself off emotionally, or rebelling.
I have spoken with adults who were so dissatisfied with their family that they moved thousands of miles in order to get away from them. They thought geography was the answer—that they could move far enough away to get away from their influence. Boy, were they wrong! Geography alone will never change the influence our family has on our life. Emotional bonds are tenacious, and your family’s influence can cross many miles. If you’re counting on geography to make the break from home, you need to rethink your solution.
Others try to make the break by “emotionally” putting parents out of their lives. They may live in the same town but because of bad past experiences have nothing to do with their parents, bottling up the hurt feelings. They just don’t talk anymore. They think cutting themselves off like this changes things. Again, it doesn’t. The hurt is still there—and so is the influence. There’s an old line that says, “The people you hate control your life.” That’s the way it is with bitterness. It always has a way of seeping out.
Rebels think they will show their independence by doing something that is different from what their parents would do. I’m not necessarily talking about doing bad things. But the issue always boils down to why you do what you do. Deciding to go to a different church than your parents doesn’t make you a rebel. But if you decide to switch churches just to show them how independent you are rather than because you genuinely prefer another congregation or denomination, that’s another matter. Your decision is still based more on what they’re thinking than on what you’re thinking.
When you have truly left home, you will demonstrate independence versus dependence—you will act versus react. And your decisions will have more to say about you than about other people. The bottom line will always be, “This is what I think is the best thing for me to do,” and you will act accordingly. If, instead, your behavior is a reaction to others, then maybe (you guessed it) you still haven’t left and there’s still some work to do before you’re ready to make any real lovedecisions.
Leaving home is not as simple as it sounds. It isn’t just a by-product of age. Nor is it always indicated by a change in address. It’s a process—one that requires many steps and encounters many interferences. Still, it is not only an accomplishable goal but one that must be attained before you are ready to make any significant lovedecisions. Assess yourself and your relationships. Have you made the break from home and dependence to self-sufficiency and independence? Are you somewhere “in process”? Or are you still clearly tied to your parents? The following worksheet may help you answer that question.
questions to consider:have you REALLY left home?
1. What kind of influence do your parents have on the decisions you make right now?
a. When it gets down to it, I have little say in any area of my life.
b. Though I make some decisions, I still yield to my parents on the big issues.
c. Though my parents may offer their opinions about the things I do, I am at a place in life where I make and take full responsibility for my own decisions.
2. If your parents were absolutely opposed to something you really thought was good to do, how willing would you be to do it anyway?
a. Not in this lifetime.
b. I’d give it a lot of thought, but I’d probably end up doing what they wanted rather than disappointing (crossing, hurting, etc.) them.
c. I’d give their input due deliberation, but ultimately I’d do what I thought was best.
3. To what extent do you still rely on your parents for financial support?
a. I regularly depend on them for money.
b. They’re helping me through college, but I plan to be independent after I graduate.
c. I’m self-sufficient.
4. How content are you when you’re not in a significant relationship?
a. I feel desperate and alone. I can’t stand to bewithout someone in my life.
b. Sometimes I feel OK, but mostly I just feel lonely.
c. I enjoy being in a relationship, but I also enjoy being by myself. Until Mr. Right comes along, I am content to be by myself, spend time with friends, and place my energies in worthy activities.
If the c choices best describe your life, then congratulations! It sounds like you’ve successfully left home and are ready to make significant lovedecisions. On the other hand, if you had any a or b responses, there’s still some work for you to do.
Also, if you’re in a significant relationship, how do you think your boyfriend would answer the same set of questions? You might want to check, because he needs to be ready, too.