One my spiritual gifts is packing. Okay, so that’s not a spiritual gift, but it’s true…a skill I’ve developed throughout my life is the ability to pack it all up and move it all out. I know that to keep fragile items from breaking you must use copious amounts of packing paper. I know that books should be packed in small boxes. I know that labeling the boxes is a pain at the time but will become invaluable to me at the other end of the moving truck. I know that being organized means that when you ask people to help you move, you won’t be wasting their time.* I know that packing a box is a bit like playing Tetris – something will fit, it’s just about finding the right item. I’m really good at it. I’m serious, people.
I should be! I’ve moved at least 16 times since I was born. And since I’m renting my current place, I likely haven’t reached my lifetime moving quota yet. As many times as I’ve left people and places behind, I’ve been left behind. Not in a Kirk Cameron/Nicholas Cage sort of way, but roommates get married or decide to take a job opportunity out-of-state or choose to pursue something in their life that makes it impossible for things to stay the same. And I felt every one of those bumps even though I was happy for and supported my friends. Because in a lot of cases, my life depended on theirs. I needed their portion of the rent to financially make my life work. I needed their physical presence because I was too afraid to live by myself. I needed their tangible, in-the-same-place friendship to not make me feel like I was alone in life. So when those things disappeared, a little piece of my happiness went with them.
Please understand me: that wasn’t them, it was me. It’s too easy for my people-pleasing self to transfer my worth into my relationships rather than depending on the Lord for that. And that’s not my friends’ fault. They have to make the decisions that are right for them. The truth is, the Lord often has a different path for them to walk than he has for me and I’m okay with that. More than that, it’s my joy to be there for them and try to help as much as I can. They are my friends, after all! And friends are friends for ever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them…
That’s not to say that life doesn’t change for them and for me. This year, I’ve said good-bye to many friends in a few months’ time. Some moved, some are still local but just not as present. And I think I’m finally starting to come up with my recipe for saying good-bye. It’s an art, really, because there’s no formula that makes things painless. Good-bye means an adjustment even though Webster’s dictionary will never tell you that.
So, here’s what I’ve learned. I reserve the right to make adjustments to this list at any time since I’m still kind of figuring it out.
1. Appreciate what your friendship has been and know that it will be different. Sometimes distance slowly affects the friendship and makes it fade to a fond memory. Sometimes you talk less frequently but can pick up where you left off when you do talk. And sometimes you keep the same level of friendship but have to work harder at it because you don’t have the day-to-day face time to help you be there for each other. I’ve has all three happen, but you know what I realized this year? No matter which category my friend ends up being in at the end of the whole thing, they still helped write a portion of my story that I’m grateful for. Just because the friendship is or isn’t NOW doesn’t diminish what its been.
2. Try to put yourself in their shoes and then pray. I may be sad that my friends aren’t here, but it’s not really all about me. There’s another side to the coin and that’s my friends’ perspective. They’re adjusting to a new normal and if they’ve moved across the country they’re doing it without the benefit of living in the same home, driving on familiar roads, and going to the same job day after day. Most of my life has remained the same, but theirs has been completely turned upside-down. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way, but the comfort of the familiar is in their rear-view mirror. So I’m trying to put myself in their shoes in their transition and ask questions to understand what they’re dealing with. To listen…and then to pray. Because prayer connects me to my friend’s life and a lot of times, that’s all I can do. I want to do my best to be a good friend by doing it fervently. I don’t always remember, but I really want to.
3. Don’t retreat…advance! It can be discouraging to start over and build new friendships. Trust me, I know. New people don’t know me or where I’m coming from. I have to share a lot before I can get to the point where I “get them” and they me. That takes a lot of repetition and not all the new friends will stick, so it means that I’m going to have to put myself out there a lot. It’s overwhelming. It’s uncomfortable. It’s easier to stay in each night and avoid that altogether. But just because my life looks different doesn’t mean it’s not good. Each experience of sharing my life with someone and having them share theirs with me is worth it, even if I don’t end up with a new BFF (though I will keep working on that friendship bracelet, just in case). I’ll be honest, this courage ebbs and flows. But I know it’s the right thing to do, so I’m trying to persist. I’ll never get there if I don’t take the first step, and that’s for sure.
I learned a long time ago that trying to hold onto people tightly makes you lose them faster. That doesn’t keep me from trying it but it also doesn’t keep the Lord from patiently teaching me the same lessons over and over…and reminding me of His faithfulness for me and those that I love. This is the truth: friendships make life sweet but God is the only one that won’t move.
So that’s what I’ve got on this Sunday evening. Have any of you figured out the formula? If so, leave it in the comments!
*A quick shout out to all the friends that have helped me move. Riches in heaven await. I’m pulling for a super sweet crown for you all with LOTS of jewels!