Like most people, I hate goodbyes.
Unfortunately, this past summer my wife and I had to say goodbye to several of our closest friends, all of whom were moving to other cities for new jobs and opportunities. It was particularly bittersweet for us, since our community was just beginning to come together in a really wonderful way.
What we experienced is not uncommon. Studies have shown that a person living in the U.S. will move close to 12 times in their lifetime. Especially for those of us who live in large, transient cities, losing friends is inevitable. So how do we deal with this issue, practically and biblically?
Feel the Freedom to Mourn and Lament.
It’s a deeply sad and peculiar thing when your community starts to move away. On one hand it’s expected (even my wife and I don’t see ourselves living in our current city long term), but on the other hand, it can catch you off guard.
When I first heard the news of our friends’ move I felt hurt, confused and angry–both with our friends and with God. I felt as if an unspoken contract had been breached.
God, why are you taking these friends away from me?
Laments and frustrations such as these course through the pages of the Bible. Just ask Job (Job 1:20-22) or the Psalmist (Psalm 13:1-2). It’s OK to mourn your friends leaving. It’s OK to be frustrated with God about it. It’s just not OK or healthy to stay there.
Preach the Gospel to Yourself.
As the Psalmist does in Psalm 13, we must temper our laments (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”) with reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness (“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me”). We must preach to ourselves the truth of God’s sovereignty, mercy and gospel of grace.
When my wife and I first moved to our current city, we didn’t know anyone. Over time, God provided us with a wonderfully rich community. It was a pure gift from Him. He did it once–do we not believe He can do it again?
Trust the Father’s Pruning.
Let’s be honest: If we were writing our own stories, most of us would not include isolation, loneliness or suffering (aka the part where our close friends move away). But Jesus tells us that the Father prunes those He loves, in order to make them more fruitful (John 15:1-2).
Pruning is uncomfortable. Pruning is painful. No branch would ever volunteer to be pruned. But because of the gospel, we can trust that even in the midst of difficult situations our Father is always doing something for our good and His glory. After all, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8: 32).
Move Toward Community.
After our friends moved away, I was tempted to wallow in an isolated state of self-pity. Every day I didn’t get an invitation from a friend to hang out took me deeper into the hole.
My mentor in college had a saying that has stuck with me: “Community will never come find you. You must go find it.” Whenever our friends move away, we must not sit back and wait idly for others to take their place. Instead, we must continually seek out and cultivate new relationships within our churches, communities and neighborhoods, trusting that over time (not overnight) new friendships will form.
Never Say Goodbye.
There’s a great passage from Sheldon Vanauken’s poignant memoir A Severe Mercy. In it the author finds himself in a situation that feels all too familiar for some of us: He and his wife moved to a new city for grad school, formed an unbelievably rich community of artists and intellectuals, (including a deep friendship with C.S. Lewis), and then had to move away for a job opportunity.
Before he leaves, Vanauken and Lewis have lunch at their usual spot one final time. There the great professor and writer, who played an instrumental role in Sheldon’s conversion to Christianity, makes an astounding statement. Vanauken remembers it this way:
Lewis said that he hoped Davy and I would come back to England soon, for we mustn’t get out of touch.
“At all events,” he said with a cheerful grin, “we’ll certainly meet again, here–or there.”
Then it was time to go, and we drained our mugs. When we emerged onto the busy high with the traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said, “I shan’t say goodbye. We will meet again.”
Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned around as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved.
“Besides,” he bellowed with a great grin, “Christians NEVER say goodbye!”
The gospel gives us hope that we will not only be reunited with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 8:11), we’ll also be united with God himself (Revelation 21:1-4). Therefore, let us weep when our friends leave, for on this side of heaven, all good things must come to an end. But let us not say goodbye, for a day is coming when we will all sit down at the table of our King together.