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What Do We Need to Leave In Order to Grow Up?

My parents loved me the best they could, but our home was a claustrophobic place by the time I was 18. The four walls of my bedroom were not going to contain me. The world was beckoning me to leave. My imagination alone transported me. I’d seen pictures of the world’s many wonders, but if ever…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

My parents loved me the best they could, but our home was a claustrophobic place by the time I was 18. The four walls of my bedroom were not going to contain me. The world was beckoning me to leave.

My imagination alone transported me. I’d seen pictures of the world’s many wonders, but if ever I was going to experience the volcanoes of Indonesia or the expanse of the Great Rift Valley, I was going to have to leave.

As children, we look to our parents and friends for our identity. A child says, “My dad is better than your dad.” Why is that important? Because if his dad is better, then the child, by extension is better too. His identity is secure. We are who we are in part because of the people we care about.

But as children mature, being an extension of a parent is no longer enough. They become aware of other points of reference. Psychologists call the process individuation – becoming an individual, learning to think for yourself.

To understand objective truth, we have to pull free from our subjective reality. And this is why it is important to leave home and see the world.

Those who never leave their hometown don’t get the chance to get outside their own bubble. Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show is the last one to realize that he’s living in a phony world. If he’s ever to see things as they are, he needs to leave.

And so do we all. A fish can’t know how small it’s tank is until it’s dropped in the ocean. We have to leave our familiar world behind to begin to see how small it really is. 

Typically, this comes around age 18 when young people go off to college. But more and more young people are seeing that even college may be too small a venue to perceive the world through the right lens. They have so much to leave if they are to see the world correctly.

Things that define us

Consider some of the outside voices and forces that come to define us.

  • our relationships
  • our looks
  • our roles
  • our accomplishments
  • our stuff
  • our preferences
  • our habits and experiences

None of this is really us. And leaving it will cost us along the way. We may get fired and lose our role. Our trophies may look good today, but soon they’ll be collecting dust. Our clothes and cars too quickly go out of style.

All of these things are rooted in the opinions of other people. But as long as we look to others to tell us we’re OK, we’ll never be OK! If life changes, our identity should not. God wants us to see ourselves as his children, independent of the opinions of others or the forces of culture. 

We need to get away from the familiar in order to get perspective. By leaving, we create space for new experiences to expand our worldview. Truth must be tested if it is to endure.

We call it abandon

We call this process of leaving the world of our adolescence “abandon.” Good parents will recognize that in nature, baby birds must leave the nest if they are to learn to fly. Though it is tempting to want to continue to mother children once they are grown, to do so is to keep them in extended adolescence. Only leaving home gets the job done. And paradoxically, this is actually the very thing that shows young people how valuable home actually is. You have to experience the absence of a thing to appreciate it’s worth.

To get beyond the limiting influence of culture, we have to not just leave home, but we have to go somewhere beyond our borders to understand other factors that have defined us. And we have to leave for long enough to begin to get perspective and to walk in a different reality.

Jesus led his disciples on a three-year journey away from home. In my experience, to really begin to walk in a kingdom-based lifestyle, this is a good amount of time. This allows you to to begin practicing new behaviors.

You have to leave culture to see it

There are many cultural artifacts that define us that we will never see unless we get some distance from them by leaving home. For example, as you move away from a culture of materialism, purging what you don’t need, you are free to experience a lifestyle of simplicity. 

You may grow up surrounded by media. But leave that for a while and you may begin to walk in a measure of discipline, deciding for yourself how you will use your time.

Your victimhood may seem normal until you get feedback from others showing you that it’s not. And only after beginning to take responsibility for yourself do you see cause and effect more clearly.

7 Cultural artifacts

Here are seven cultural artifacts and what the process of abandon can produce.

1. Leave                          2. Practice                3. Own 

Materialism              —–>Purging             —–>Simplicity

Media-centric           —–>Discipline          —–>Self-governance

Individualism           —–>Small group       —–>Church/community

Narcissism               —–>Service              —–>Loving others

Consumer spirituality—–>Belonging          —–>Maturity

Victimhood               —–>Feedback           —–>Empowerment

Small worldview        —–>Diversity            —–>Kingdom

Leaving is hard 

Of course leaving is hard. It is often painful. But if you stick it out, you have the chance to discover who God made you to be.

In twenty years of taking young people on journeys of initiation, I’ve seen that the pain of leaving is often more than many can bear. On their own they find it almost impossible to disconnect from social media and the comforts of home. 

That’s why I advocate journeying as a member of a group. In a group you can stay accountable and encouraged. Our World Race teams are a place of continual encouragement in a journey that tests their endurance.

For those who stick it out, the rewards are rich. We all inwardly long to walk out of insecurity and into true identity. We were built to be loved and to live out of that place of safety. 

Getting there will cost you, but it is so worth it!

Comments (12)

  • Thanks Seth for detailing the journey. I know for me travel abroad and being imbedded for a season in other cultures has been an important part of the journey. It is still amazing to me that on a third of Americans have a passport and most of what is “known” about the world comes from cable television, movies and other “arms length” sources. Love you.

    • Yes, Butch, it’s amazing how provincial we are in America. Having friendly neighbors and oceans two our east and west have made it easy to be that way…

  • While I agree with what you’re saying, there is so much to be gained by going to other parts of the world, I must say that right where I am the need appears to be so great I sometimes feel the weight of it crushing me.

    I think the problem isn’t always finding yourself by going away. I think we truly find ourselves by the mirror of God’s Word and His truth. At some point, the believer needs to put away the childish things and learn who they really are in Christ, and that most definitely is what needs to define us. Whether we go or whether we don’t, we can let the Word of God illuminate our hearts and see the call that He has placed before us. The race we are called to run. We can not do that without being immersed in the Word of God and praying and seeking His Face, His will and His truth and light.

    Going is critical. We are told to Go! Go ye therefore…..but to some going might not be far away. To some it absolutely is part of their call. To some it’s right where they are. Either way, the journey and the process “to go” has to start with God, His will, His Word and His presence. So many today misquote the Bible, don’t really know the Bible, use the parts of it they want to fit into their lives, but only His truth will set people free.

    I think the actual leaving is leaving your will behind. Leaving your thoughts for His. Leaving comfort and ease for service to God, etc. Whatever that entails for you. For some it will be going away. For some it will be a lonely time while He’s preparing you right where you are. For some, it’s stepping out where you are so He can send you out even farther. To some it’s leaving everything and right from the beginning it’s going somewhere else. I think each person being led by God must step into whatever that place is for them.

    I know from right where I am, God has revealed Himself to me in a big way during a very lonely time with others but an awesome time with Him. For me, yes I believe I will be going “out there” and frankly who knows where yet but I know I will be. For me, raising children came first and then more preparation and soon I will be going probably farther than I ever initially dreamed.

    I also want to add that I’m not sure you have to go “see” the world to know “the world”. The Bible is clear what the world is and what the world entails. I John 2:15,16 says Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world.

    Why do I say this? Because my heart is grieved every single day by what I hear on the news and see just right where I am. Evil is evil. Deception is deception. It’s everywhere. Make no mistake I’m not knocking what you said at all. I agree with you. I just want to make sure that it’s understood that you don’t always have to go to get it. The Word is how we get it. Our time invested in it should teach us, train us, chastise us, challenge us, grow us to adults in the Lord and very equipped and able doers of that very Word. That has got to be our foundation before doing anything. On Christ the solid rock I stand. We can not stand without learning to be joined with Him in every single thing we do. Some people (like myself) try to “go” before they “know”. Know Him the One we are to be joined with. I knew of Him and was saved and could quote scriptures but I did not have the solid foundation I needed.

    Just wanted to share that in addition to what you said. Once again, I love your heart and passion for the things of God and furthering His Gospel and impacting lives! I love to see the people who are really trying to do this thing and live this thing out. THY Kingdom COME on earth as it is in Heaven! Amen!

    • Cheryl,

      Good point. You don’t have to leave to get the change process started. God can speak to you thru the Bible or thru some other means. Often he speaks to people thru illness or some form of pain that helps them let go of the things that have held their hearts.

      At some point, however, there is the issue of perspective. We only see what we’ve seen or imagined. New perspectives require a change of vista and relationships.

      And that’s my prayer for you, Cheryl – that God touches your heart and gives you the people who will encourage you thru this season.

  • Thanks Seth! That prayer is needed!

    I agree about perspective. Without a vision My people perish. It’s so true. God has been reshaping my vision even clearer and bigger than I certainly started with or could have even imagined for myself. He’s getting me to see Him out of that tiny box I kept Him in for so long. He’s showing me that I can make a difference. I don’t have to be afraid of the hurts and disappointments and rejections and even missteps that will surely come. He’s got me. Hand in hand, I will keep linked to Him and together we can do this. Thanks again for boldly reaching into people’s lives! God bless!

  • Thanks, Seth, for this perspective. I love the idea that abandonment takes practice and doesn’t just happen overnight.
    Jesus Himself said “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” In Matthew 13: 53-58 it seems like Jesus returns to Nazareth after going out and stepping into a new power and identity. But the people of Nazareth don’t recognize or appreciate his new identity, and he doesn’t do any miracles there
    I experienced something like this myself when I returned home from the World Race Gap Year. There was almost an expectation that I would be the same as I was before I left, and I felt like many were not receptive or understanding of the growth that I had experienced.

    Seth, do you have any words or advice for those who struggle to maintain or implement the growth we’ve experienced upon returning home?
    I think a key to this is being deeply rooted in your identity in the Father, not in other people, which is something you already wrote about. But I think a danger of the Race is gaining an identity in the community rather than in the Father.
    What are your thoughts?

  • Thanks for the reference; it was a great blog. In it you talked about the assimilation phase, the 2nd year of the journey. You wrote that you’re not sure what exactly what that practically looks like, 8 years ago.
    CGA seems like it matches some of your descriptions of the assimilation phase. Apprentices are for the most part back in the “real world” of America, but still surrounded by community. We’re pushed to dive deeper into many lessons learned on the Race.

    So would you say CGA has become AIM’s manifestation of the Assimilation phase?

  • Thank you Seth. Our son Devin is on the WR gap H right now! This is a beautiful reminder of what his journey is really all about! It is amazing how his journey is changing and growing our whole family even though he is all the way across the world ! Thank you for poineering this organization! We are so thankful for this journey 🙂

    • Traci – I checked out Devin’s blog. What a sharp young man! It encourages me so much to see strong families like yours. I love what he said:

      “Family is very important to me. I have an older sister, older brother, and younger brother and my parents; all of them love and support me every day. They help coach me through tough decisions, and they laugh with me every single day. Without my family, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

  • Seth,
    Thank you for the kind words! We are very excited for Devin, his courage and willingness to listen to God and go is encouraging and inspiring to us all! The way God worked through him and the way He led Devin to WR has just been incredible ! (and how quickly God worked and Devin listened !). It has been such a blessing to us all.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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