Friday, July 9, 2010
To Stay or Leave: what I learned from Bron Bron.
Here's the truth: I am biased. I am a Lebron James fan (this doesn't mean I will ever sport a Heat jersey). I believe he was the undisputed MVP this past year. Yes, his team didn’t make it the finals; and yes, he had a rough series against the Celtics, but he was and still is incredible. I am biased because I love watching Bron Bron. We are the same age (even though he looks like he is like he’s in his late thirties; not the youthful twenty-five that he is). I remember the first time I saw Lebron. I was an eighteen year old preparing myself for four years of college; Lerbron was entering into the NBA. The first time I saw him play was at the McDonald’s All American Game. There were tons of people there, and a myriad of good players that year, but no one cared. All eyes were on Lebron. Truth be told, they still are.
I guess that’s why he shook the nation Thursday, declaring where he’d play next season. The gauntlet was dropped that evening when he announced he would no longer play for his home state’s team, the Cavs, but would instead, sign with the Miami Heat. In Cleveland mayhem ensued. Grown men cried in the streets, the GM of the Cavs reacted like a jealous girlfriend who just got dumped via Facebook and reamed Lebron with hate speech, and let’s not forget the biggest crush: a city’s heart was broken. Who knew the departure of a professional athlete could cause such despondency? Seriously, there was more crying Thursday than the night of the season finale of Friends. There was sadness in Ohio, but move a few miles to the south (South Beach to be exact) and people were dancing in the streets. And everywhere else in the country, well, the reaction seems to be mixed. A superstar joining a trio of great players is not as sweet a story as a local kid making his hometown great. I think there was a part in all of us that wanted him to stay. But what did we really expect from Lebron? It brings up an interesting point, and perhaps even a theological one: when is it right to stay, and when is it right to go?
I know what it’s like to have someone you respect and care about leave. Undoubtedly, we’ve all experienced the sting when someone leaves us whether it’s a teacher, coach, pastor, or loved one. Let’s be honest. There is pain involved. We may feel betrayed, abandoned, and not important. We question the individual’s loyalty and motives, and usually, we respond to their exodus with anger. I remember suffering a stint of fleeing youth pastors in middle school and high school, many of whom only stayed for a short while. After about a year they scattered quickly, like a dog when he hears the sound of the evil vacuum cleaner. It was rough for me personally and also for my church and youth group. Certainly, you communicate a lot to an organization and the people in your life with the amount of time you give them. The quantity of time truly communicates the care you have for them. But like in Lebron’s situation, does there come a time when it is right to leave? It’s difficult to answer this question when you’ve been “left” but if the situation is reversed, you may understand the importance of moving on.
Seven years ago when Lebron was signing with the Cavaliers, I was signing loan documents to attend college. While Lebron put on a Cav’s jersey and signed his multi-million dollar contract, I moved away from family and friends to start a new life in California. Even as an eighteen year old fresh out of high school, I knew wasn’t going back. I knew I had to leave. It was on my heart, and it was the direction God was calling me to go. Leaving the people you love and the security of what you’ve known is an arduous task to say the least. It is not a pain-free path to go down. However, in hindsight, I know it was the only option that I could live with. Henri Nouwen explains in his book Here and Now, that following Jesus is really an adventure in leaving. He asks the question:
“Are we able and willing to unhook ourselves from the restraining emotional bonds that prevent us from following our deepest vocation? Jesus wants to set us free, free from everything that prevents us from fully following our vocation…to come to that freedom we have to keep leaving our fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and dare to follow him…”
Do we dare to follow Him even if it means we have to leave? Even if that means the people around us will be upset, and feel betrayed? Can we live with the disapproval of our peers and the ambivalence of our emotions (wanting to stay and knowing we need to go) in order to pursue what is best? Jesus challenges us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), and the necessity of “leaving” in order to attain the life he came to give us (Luke 18:29-30). That is a tough pill to swallow. But even in the difficulty of knowing when to stay and when to leave, there is hope. At the end of the day, we have to live with our decisions. Lebron said Cleveland will always have his soul. He gave them seven years of his life. He is not betraying a city, he is following his heart. That is something no one can judge him for.
We may never fully understand the reasons people need to leave in our lives. Likewise, we may also not fully comprehend those reasons when we’re the ones to leave! The truth is, however, that there is a time to stay and a time to go. It sounds cliché, and is probably worded more poetically and eloquently in that series about love and vampires and werewolves, but there is a time to listen to your heart. God gave us the ability to do so for a reason. We can’t fault Bron Bron for making the choice to leave. In life, there is a time to stay and a time to leave. We all have to make that choice eventually.