Should I Stay or Should I Go?


My Wendell Berry journey began with reading his essays. I was enthralled with his ideas of husbandry, his distaste for computers, and his reluctance to rely on coal for energy.

But when I read Hannah Coulter last year as part of a church book group, I was less mesmerized. Although I found the book beautiful and sweet, it was also painful for me to read. It touched on some deep wounds from childhood regarding family and community.

I grew up in a log cabin on twelve acres of woods in Georgia. I was homeschooled. I was very secluded from the world. It was both hard and joyous to leave that place. It was hard because it was everything I knew and loved. It was joyous because it was freedom from what at times felt like a prison.

In Hannah Coulter, Hannah and her husband talk about the children that grew up and never returned to their family farm as if they were lost—to Hannah and her husband, to love and community, and maybe even to Christ.

I’m not sure that I can get on board with Berry’s picture of staying. Yet at the same time, I do see in my friends and at times myself, a fear of commitment, a selfish desire to “make the most out of life,” and a worldly view that cheapens community and demeans the simple life of devotion to one’s family and place.

My debut album is called In Search of the Sea, and it is all about leaving and going on an adventure. The longing for an exciting life is not hard to defend—our culture is saturated with it. “Make your life the best movie possible.” That’s what I hear from my TV and also from some of my favorite authors and speakers, many of them devout believers. But I find something missing from that view and almost sigh in relief when I read that it is not only okay but perhaps even admirable to look at life a different way—a slower way.

The song “Hey, Annaliese” is about a girl who is always leaving. She’s been running away from being known and loved. The chorus says:

Hey, Annaleise
there’s a place you can land here,
there’s a place you can stay,
there’s a place you can grow.

Don’t be afraid,
afraid of the shoreline,
afraid of the down time,
afraid of slow years.

In the end, I refuse to take a strong stance either way: I love adventure and travel too much to stay in one place, but I also long for deep relationships, commitment, and a physical place to call home.

When I think of loyalty, I think of Ruth in the Old Testament. She was loyal to a person instead of a place. She clung to Naomi, but left her father’s land and religion.

As a Christian, I know my first loyalty is always to Christ, and he might send me all over the known world. He might also ask me to stay in one tiny place for a very long time. Perhaps “a time to stay and a time to go” is a line that should be added to Ecclesiastes 3. Perhaps if we answered this question (to leave or to go) definitely, then we would be avoiding a real relationship with Christ and never learning to truly follow him.

So what do you think? When have you left or stayed and what came of it?

“Hey, Annaliese” Music Video:


In Search of the Sea, will be available July 21st on iTunes. Until then, you can pre-order it at:


  1. Brenda Nuland

    If I had read Hannah Coulter earlier, I would have seen it from a different perspective.  However, I read it after both of my children were grown and on their own.  One of them living 1,000 miles away.  I so get Hannah.

  2. Collin Cockrell

    Great post. I grew up in a town in Oklahoma. I never imagined I’d ever live very far away but that’s exactly what happened. I am now in Washington State where my wife grew up. We are in the process of searching for where to grow deep roots (jobs are a factor). The older I get, the more I see the value in staying in one place and building community. I suppose that’s why I’m such a fan of Jayber Crow. Wendell Berry does a masterful job of highlighting the value of this and it’s only magnified in a world that embraces fast things. I have friends that I’ve known since Kindergarten and I want my kids to have that same experience. I guess you could say my journey away from Oklahoma was one for love and I wouldn’t have done it differently.

  3. Matt Garner


    The longing for an exciting life is not hard to defend—our culture is saturated with it. “Make your life the best movie possible.”

    The Christian version of this has a term, coined by the very smart Jen Pollock Michel – the Gospel of Self-Fulfillment. It’s a cousin of the Prosperity Gospel and it’s nearly as damaging. It’s hard to remember that Jesus is in the mundane, the routine, the decidedly pedestrian life.

    As someone who spent eight years on the train of self-fulfillment, on adventures in exciting cities and admirable artistic pursuits before getting off to find the joy of a “normal” life, I find the staying or returning rather to be much more peaceful.

    Thanks for your post 🙂

  4. Jacob Gardner


    First time reading Hannah Coulter. I literally just finished the section last night that describes her sorrow over children gone and son Caleb’s family returning stopping by on their way to some where else……..sad.  We are now in the season of “Staying” and it feels right but I fight it sometimes. God directs the season, he is in control thankfully. Learning the power of staying, investing in relationships and not retreated when things get hard. It’s good!

  5. Dawn Camp


    Hello, Hetty! A friend linked me to a post on the site and I just saw yours. I just watched your video and I am so proud of you! Your mama must be beaming. 🙂

  6. Dawn Camp


    Hello, Hetty! A friend linked me to a post here and I found yours. I just watched your video and I am so proud of you! Your mother must be beaming. 🙂

  7. Meg

    This post describes my heart and longings exactly. I’m contending with both and I refuse to let a mythology or morality around staying or adventuring to define my experience. That’s why I love your conclusion about trusting Jesus and following Him. Thank you.



  8. Jane

    Hi Hetty!  Did the album release on 7/21? I preordered but have not seen more, (nor have I found it on iTunes)  Hoping all is ok with your side and wondering if I made a mistake in understanding how the pre-order works.  Love your music and can’t wait for the album!  I have a nice names Annelise and loved being able to share this post with her!  Thanks!! Jane

  9. Hetty White


    Thanks for sharing your stories, everyone. Brenda, I’m sure I will feel differently when I have children. Collin, I love what you said: “I guess you could say my journey away from Oklahoma was one for love and I wouldn’t have done it differently.” 

  10. Jane

    Thank you!  I just saw it now, yay!  Sorry to appear impatient, (I prefer to think of it a ‘Eager’).

    Blessings for what lies ahead, Jane


  11. Katie

    Yes! To all of this. Our family of 6 spent a year in an RV traveling the US. I miss it so much, that life of adventure. However, we did not have community and realized the need for that. I think there’s a way to balance the 2, but you must be intentional.

  12. MacKenzie Branch


    What a fun music video! The song is fantastic.
    Looks like I’ll need to add some Wendell Berry to my reading list – seems like I’ve been hearing his name a lot lately. Right now I’m in a “going” phase, as I’ve just moved away from my hometown. The decision to go has certainly been one laden with reminders to trust Him and follow where He is leading, after a few years of trusting Him in the waiting back home.

  13. Anissa

    Hi Hetty!

    I so appreciated this post! My senior thesis in college was all about this idea of staying versus leaving. I based it on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, and explored his autobiographical, personal relationship with the poem, but also how we as believers should handle this tension.  I used a few Wendell Berry essays for support, as well as….. *drumroll, please*  Andrew Peterson’s song, “World Traveler.”

    “Take a left at the end of my street, just a few doors down. Up the hill and into the trees, there’s a hole in the ground where we wandered the caverns so deep, wandered the wonders so wide. It was right beneath our feet, all this time, all this time.”

    If I remember correctly from his explanation at a concert, this literally happened. But the metaphor is brilliant and beautiful to me, too.  As one who just recently got married and is digging down roots, I’m learning to appreciate that while my heart always longs for travel and adventure, the real adventures in life are often right inside the doors of our homes and hearts.

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