So ever since I posted my plea to have you send more submissions, I’ve been thinking: we want more wisdom from more women, right? So maybe I should just interview them. Would you gals be into a Missionary Mamas podcast? It probably wouldn’t be with any regularity (#momlife), but I’ve got a few ladies in mind who I think would make wonderful guests.
DISCLAIMER: For my coworkers and friends (not just internet friends), this is not a veiled hint that I’m leaving. So relax: you’re stuck with me for a while yet. (Though that thought may not help you relax. Ha.)
I’ve been putting off this post. I started feeling the need for it in June…that’s Leaving Season. I don’t like writing about this subject, because it touches some places in my life that are still tender. Nobody likes getting left, and it happened in some impactful ways when I was pretty young. And on the mission field, it has happened more than ever, forcing me to confront some things about myself I’d just as soon leave buried deep. (Not unique to me, by the way; even mild trauma and stress always make the baggage we brought with us even heavier.)
Some of the leaving wasn’t so bad. I knew they were just here for a one-year contract, and I was sad, but it was expected. And there’s leaving where there were tell-tale signs that they were just antsy, ready to move on; awesome new job popped up, kid was struggling with life overseas, etc. Understandable.
But then there’s the leaving that pops up out of nowhere. The kind that comes with an email that says “We’re quitting because we don’t think this ministry justifies the amount of money we have to raise.” Excuse you, which ministry? Because you can’t mean this ministry, the one I’m pouring my heart and soul into every day. Let’s put it this way: the carpool the next day was awkward.
Then there’s the leaving where you doubt it’s God’s leading them away, because it seems like they’re so so so tired and they’ve lost perspective and healthy boundaries and just can’t be hereanymore. The ones claimed by burnout. It creeps in like a damn thief, mamas. And if I sound mad about that, it’s only because I am. And please hear this in the spirit of deep compassion that I intend it: it is not your fault if this happened to you. Burnout, in my opinion, is systemic within organizations, and we’ve all got to do better supporting each other’s mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. We’ve all got to learn how to prevent it: we don’t come knowing how.
Then there’s the leaving when it was the couple that just “got you.” Where you actually miraculously all clicked personality-wise, and their kids tolerated you well, and it feels like losing members of your family. And all that old hurt starts speaking up, spitting nails, fighting mad that it’s happening again. I still remember the email when they let us know: I turned to my husband with tears in my eyes, and said something I know now wasn’t true, but which felt true with every ounce of me:
“I can’t do this without them.”
That is how it felt.
I started channeling Elijah fleeing Jezebel:
“Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (I Kings 19:13-14 NIV, emphasis mine).
I am the only one left!
This feeling is coming if it hasn’t hit you yet (especially in June). Especially when one key departure sparks a second, then a third, and suddenly, they’re falling like dominoes.
But wait–what happened right before Elijah said that?
God came near. A God who gently whispers, who draws us to the mouth of the cave, calls to us from our hiding places, a God who stays close by in pain and suffering. And while He often frustrates us by mostly asking questions instead of answering them, He’s worthy of your trust. He’s a good friend, closer than a brother. God wants you to know Him that way. It’s possible.
And wait–what happened right after Elijah said that?
He corrected Elijah’s error (“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him”), then God told him to get back to work. Sound cold? It’s not. He gave him Elisha right after that, a constant companion for years afterward. He gave him a friend.
And you know what? Those precious friends left two years ago, and I have new friends now. No, it wasn’t instantaneous, but I was totally wrong. I’m stronger than I thought. And that gap allowed my other relationships to grow. God leveraged my loneliness for good: blessing not just me, but those around me who were lonely, too.
So what you can do when friends leave?
Build a CABIN. Friends who are leaving are supposed to build a RAFT, so shouldn’t you get to build something, too? Here’s the bullet-point version, but if you have time, the whole article is well-worth the read:
Count the cost: why are you here? How’d you get here, anyway?
Acknowledge the loss: What do they mean to you? What made this friendship special?
Bless the leavers: Pray for them. Hug. Cry.
Invest in your community: Look around and dig in. What’s waiting for you here and now? (And don’t say nothing. That’s not a thing.)
Nest: How can you make home a little homier? Make life a little more comfortable as you grieve and process.
2. Don’t let them go. (No, I’m not suggesting that you tie them up and keep them in your closet.)
Our God is an incredible person. Jesus knew he was leaving: he knew this was “it,” the end of his time with his dearest friends. When I’m in that position, my natural inclination is to pull back; slowly, subtly, but pulling back to be sure. Not Jesus. He just doubled down on their friendship and picked the most humiliating job he could think of to bless them. (I’m referring to John 13.) I love how John puts it: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus loves to the last possible moment. So don’t back off. Can you help pack? Can you watch their kids so they can have a date in this stressful time? Can you go out for coffee or have tea on your back porch and just let her talk about her fears about this next chapter? Double down, mamas. Get in there. Yeah, it’s harder–but it proves you’re a real friend. It proves you’re in it despite the distance, and those are the friendships that last.
3. Send them in peace.
You know that line in a wedding, “Speak now, or forever hold your peace?” That’s what I mean here. If there’s anything between you, now’s the time to make it right. When David and Jonathan had to part ways, here’s what they said:
Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.[b]
This was no average friendship: they made covenants. They even expected their kids to be friends. And this was no average friendship in that Jonathan’s dad was literally trying to kill David. They could’ve let bitterness or doubt creep in, but instead, they chose to affirm their love for each other. Don’t be afraid to do that. Affirm, encourage, build up, exhort. Send them into their next chapter strong, knowing that you’re just an email away.
Goodbyes on this side of heaven…they’re tough. Treat yourself gently. Get extra hugs and /or foot rubs from your hubby. Read silly novels that remind you to laugh. And then start looking and praying for your Elisha.
Here’s other people with more thoughts on the subject:
Marilyn Gardner has written a wonderful book on her experience being a third culture kid, including her transition back to her passport country. It’s called Between Worlds, and I highly recommend it. But if you don’t have time to read a whole book, this article is a pretty good cliff note version. I find plenty of it helpful for myself as well.