“I’m leaving,” she said. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“I am so sorry,” I replied, as tears formed against my skin, pouring like rivers down my face. Sadness ate my soul.
What if I cared more?
What if I listened better?
What if I said something sooner?
But it was too late. My friend’s decision was made, and she was moving on. She felt free and filled with hope. And who am I to keep her from flying?
As my sadness passed, anger rushed in.
Why do I have to stay?
I wanted to leave, too.
What do you do when your friends, whom you love so deeply, leave your church community because they are hurt? My sorrow began with one friend leaving, then more followed, with more sorrow.
And as I listened to the hearts of those who were leaving my community, I eventually grew bitter. I was impulsive with my emotions. I got out-of-control angry. The feelings that burned inside me seemed to take on a life of their own, and I found that my lips were seasoned with hate towards my brother.
Yet, during the months of despair, God brought this passage from Colossians to mind for me:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12-13
The passage begins with an exhortation, reminding us that we are chosen by God. It then commands us to look like Jesus, and to acknowledge the reality that we will sin against one another and have complaints and unforgiveness, but we are to bear with one another and we must forgive.
Bear with one another.
As I continued to wrestle with forgiveness, God gave me another convicting verse:
“But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:11
In my darkness, He also gave me a question:
What about you, how have you sinned?
This was a question a friend had posed to me ten years ago in a different situation. At the time, I had no idea how to answer. I did not know to properly look within and acknowledge, confess and repent of all the ways I have sinned.
When the memory of this question rushed into my heart, waves of truth washed over my soul. I could feel conviction softening my heart. My hard and calloused soul slowly softened to the tender touch of the Holy Spirit.
My unforgiveness has blinded me from seeing my brother as a brother. I began to see that some of my relationships needed reconciliation: confession of sin, and honest conversations. These honest conversations would be the difference between my staying or leaving. I needed a chance to rebuild bridges, to bear with my brother, in love. I needed to stay.
Staying was a choice for me. The choice was between reconciliation or running away from forgiving my siblings in Christ.
But I found that the problem with staying while others who you love are leaving is that there is no real guide to how you do that. It is lonely and disorienting.
What do you do when you are no longer in close proximity to those you once walked with? What do you do when the friends you thought you would grow old with move on to another church community? Where do you turn for stability? I found guidance through Scripture, and Jesus’ friendship.
The choice to stay requires our mindset to be on things above (Col 3:2). If we take that mindset then we will remember that Kingdom friendships are continued in Forever. A ‘good-bye’ in this lifetime is actually just a ‘see you later.’
Staying also requires prayer. When we whisper “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,” we are welcoming the unexpected. It’s the prayer of heaven, a prayer of submission, a prayer of adventure. It’s also a prayer of denying the flesh, of renouncing old ways, and a prayer against our pride.
Staying ultimately requires us to lay down our fantasies and choose reality. We must embrace the reality of today–of what’s here, who’s here. Look around. Staying is the choice to try to grow in contentment, allowing ourselves to see the beauty of today. If we put all of our hope in tomorrow, and place all our joy in what could be, then we will miss out on the blessings of today– of new friends, and of continued daily faithfulness.
Though our hearts ache and tears fill our eyes sometimes, as believers who are saved by grace we can hold fast to the truth that eternity begins now, all because of Jesus. We can be faithful, as he is faithful. We can forgive, as he forgave.
Jesus, my true everlasting friend.
The one who satisfies my deep hunger for intimacy.
You meet me in the lonely place and say ‘I am here’.
You are the kind of friend that will lay down your life for me,
the kind of friend that will carry me, the kind of friend that sees me.
You are eternity in me, closer than a brother, closer than a lover.