Tennyson might have been correct when he said “it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all,” but that skirts the fact that it is certainly more painful to have loved and lost than to have never loved. It is love that makes goodbyes so hard, so painful.
In the past three years, I have lived in four cities, three states and two countries, worked with four organizations (I promise, I am not as unstable as I seem, internships and seasonal employment just don’t last long) and have had to say goodbye to more people than I ever want to in my life. None of them have been easy.
Whether your reason for moving is a new job, graduation, marriage or simply a desire for a change of scenery, know this: if you have invested in your current community, it will be hard. When we pour ourselves into something, even when we are leaving for something “better”, we are still leaving and often a piece of ourselves behind. Uprooting a life and relationships is a painfully difficult process.
But if you never invest relationally in a community or job, then leaving is easy. If you never put yourself out there, just cruise and stay connected with “old friends”, it is easy to say goodbye and go back to what you had. That is one of the dangers of Facebook and the 500 ways that we can technologically keep in touch with those who are far from us. It is great for staying in touch but often draws us away from the present reality.
When I moved to Orlando this past summer, I knew six people in the entire city. They were all “old friends” and I knew I was only going to be in the city for a three month internship. It would have been easiest for me to only hang out with those six and spend the rest of my time on email, Skype and the phone with other comfortable relationships. But it wouldn’t have been best.
So, like a little kid taking his first steps, I hesitantly tried to open up my life to my coworkers. And, like I little kid, I was scared and failed often. I am quite good at covering up my insecurities, my fears of being rejected by others, so I don’t know if they saw it—but I wanted to crawl back to the familiar and stay there for the three months. I was scared to open up, to ask questions, to not be considered the “cool kid”, to reach out and enter into community.
I had it wrong. I hear relational investment and I think in terms of economics; I invest part of myself and I have to get something out. In the Gospels, Jesus asked, “What is the point of only loving those who love you. Even the ‘pagans’ do that.” My sister says that “If we go into something with expectations, we hardly ever fail to be disappointed.” I was disappointed by myself and by those around me who I wanted to reach out to me.
But even amidst my disappointment, I knew I had to keep reaching out. So I got involved with a small group at church, talked to the pastor, tried to learn names at church even though I knew when I left in three months, most of these relationships would be left behind.
It made it harder. I grew to love the church I went to, the couples in my small group and even the people I worked with. I will miss them. It would have been easier to stay disconnected. Not better, but easier. Because I became more connected, I knew it would hurt to tear that away.
If we always cling to the past, we can’t live in the present community that Christ intends us to live as a part of. Growth is rarely comfortable and never occurs by settling for what’s easy. To steal from my sister again, “Relationships help you grow. They teach you about yourself, both the good and the bad. They challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and be willing to invest in and care about someone other than yourself. Without them we become 110 percent self-focused and fail to reach our full potential. If we go into it looking to just give of ourselves and be a friend, we hardly ever fail to be pleasantly surprised at how God can even the most random or odd person to be in a relationship with us and teach us and grow us into more of what we were created to be.”
Far too often, people avoid hurt and in doing so, avoid growth and refinement. A friend laughed as she told me that “instead of relishing in the weight of the trials we try to jump out of it, because it burns—it hurts.” Yet refinement is burning away, making us holy. Perhaps entering into community and then having to leave is simply one method God uses to refine us. It teaches us the value of community, of love, of burning away our self-reliance.
Chris Rule lives in Ohio and, among many other things, blogs.