During my last semester in college, I shrank away from friends and became an almost-recluse. I was anticipating leaving the people I loved, and the fearful part of myself thought it would hurt less if I left them emotionally before I left them physically. Thankfully, my best friend called me out on my actions and made me aware of the fact that, although it might help me, it was hurting her.
In the last ten years, I have moved five times (I’m jumping forward to include my move to Greece in a few months). Each time I left people that I loved deeply and considered family. There is still a part of me that wants to avoid getting close to people for fear of inevitably being separated. But I’ve learned that there is a particular kind of bravery that allows a person to keep opening their heart to joy and pain. I’ve learned that I want to fling myself into loving people, experiencing the heights of friendships and depths of loneliness.
My friend Kimberley recently wrote a blog post (“Saying Goodbye“) about being a missionary who is so often separated from friends and family. She is an inspiration to me, and I’ve loved getting to see her twice this spring while her family is stateside. She feels the pain of separation deeply, but she doesn’t let it stop her from loving just as deeply.
The question, I guess, is why? There is some truth in the fact that, without risking intense loneliness, we won’t experience intense intimacy. But as a Christian, I believe there is something more. We can say goodbye because this isn’t the only life we have. I believe that one day God will recreate a new heaven and a new earth, and we will be able to spend eternity in relationship with God and with people.
This faith is put to the test when I say goodbye. When I left Mongolia, I knew there was a good chance I would never see any of my friends again in this life. When I leave Dallas, I know that I will not have the same level of friendship with the people I say goodbye to. And when I leave the Forsythes, I know that all the Facebook and Skype conversations in the world can’t make up for the fact that I want to play board games with them every weekend. But if I really do believe in a life after death, I can say goodbye in anticipation of a day when we will be reunited.
This is so freeing! It doesn’t take away the pain, but it does overlay the pain with hope. It gives me the freedom to travel the world, to make more friends and create more relationships. I don’t have to hoard people or shut down on myself. I can give people up, trusting that this is not the end. I can keep my heart open to people, knowing that although we might spend time apart now, we will have all of eternity to hang out.
I hated leaving the Forsythes. I am preemptively hating the idea of leaving Dallas and the friends I’ve made here. But I know this is not the end, so I look forward to our reunions, in this life and the next.