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  • Helen and Mike

The wisdom of independence

I don’t really want to write about Brexit again – so I won’t… Only as a useful lens through which to view lots of other relationships.

This week, I heard a radio discussion highlighting British ambivalence about Europe from the perspective of history throughout hundreds of years. We have tried to work out our relationship in a variety of ways – by conquest, by marriages of royal convenience, by trying to ‘go it alone’ in creating the Church of England, by various alliances and ‘ententes’ ‘cordiales’ or not so cordiale and, in the 20th century through all-out war.

The relationship between the UK and the enormous land mass to its east offers a text-book insight into the tensions and struggles between individuals or small groups with larger groups. If we’re honest, we all have difficulties in maintaining a helpful balance between dependence and independence in these contexts. The classic family example is children getting older, seeking an independent life, an identity of their own, the opportunity to make their own mark on the world. They want to do things their way! But independence comes at a price. They have to pay their own bills and do their own cooking and laundry. Perhaps, the hardest consequence of all is taking responsibility for one’s own decisions. Maturity is the slow development of that balance between dependence and independence.

But the parents’ end of the relationship with children has its own problems. Many of us see the importance of our ‘fledglings’ leaving the nest but we have learned to depend on the sense of control and the power that comes when they do what we say! Seeing them make their own choices wakens all sorts of parental vulnerablilities about children’s safety. Can they really make it alone? Will we have to swoop down and rescue them when they make mistakes? The maturity to allow adult children to create not only their own successes but also their own mistakes and yet, to still be there for them, is a tricky balance to strike.

In larger systems, the same principles apply. As members of voluntary organisations like the church, many of us struggle to find a balance between belonging and independence. Some of us are glad for ‘mother church’ to be there for us – to guide and shelter and sometimes even to do our thinking for us. But we may not be so happy when that thinking and the behaviour that goes with it is unsatisfactory in some way. Then the children of mother church have to start paying the price/taking responsibility for our own thinking and decisions.

At the other end of the relationship are the church family leaders who want to ‘share the heavy loads of responsibility they carry’. They want ‘members’ to ‘do their share’ of heavy lifting. At the same time, they want to keep their power and control. They want things done ‘in their way’. When communication skills are not developed and used, relationships suffer as the see-saw between control and freedom, between dependence and independence goes up and down.

The tides of dependence and independence rise and fall. The challenge is to learn

the wisdom of push and pull – the powerful dynamics involved in negotiating the swirling currents - whether we find them behind our own front door or in the public square.

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