Lamenting Losses: distance is a familiar foe

This morning one of my dearest friends is coming to my house with her kids. When she leaves, instead of heading back to her house, she will get in her van and drive on down the interstate. She won’t go very far today, but tomorrow she and her family will drive to Florida with all their belongings. After church Sunday night, the boys and I walked out of the building with her husband and two children. I casually said bye to him, and then we both stopped and realized it was actually goodbye. We hugged and cried in the parking lot.

I’ve had several friends move over the past few years and when this friend told me she was moving, I came home and announced to my husband that I was no longer going to make friends. I would be friendly, but I would not be friends, and for me, there’s a big difference. It’s one thing for me to hold space for you; it’s quite another for me to step into the space and open my heart.

Refusing to form friendships is, of course, nonsense. We are designed for community. God lives in community. The church is a body, a family, and we need other people. We all shrivel left to ourselves.

It would be my choice to bring all of my people to my neighborhood and run back and forth between our backyards, letting our children play and sharing dinner and building bonfires near the edge of the woods. Then I could just stay here. I could stay cocooned from the world, satisfied with my tight-knit collection of intimate friends.

Only that’s not actually what we’re called to do as believers, is it?

The call to be ‘in the world but not of it’ is a call to actually be IN the world: rubbing shoulders with unbelievers, attending meetings and soccer games and grocery stores with people who don’t believe just like us, learning how to interact with grace and kindness. Of course we’re not of the world because we live in the kingdom. Instead of being shaped by the kingdoms of this world, we are formed to be like Jesus. We reflect His kingdom. His will becomes our will.

But what good does that do in the world if we’re holed up with our little group? How are we ambassadors for Christ if we never see the people who aren’t part of the same kingdom that we are? How do we work out His justice in our communities and cities? Our call is to go out into the world. A friend who has always been long-distance pointed out that the world doesn’t need all of us to congregate in one location. All the rural areas and inner-cities and suburbia need our presence.

God brings some of us together for certain periods of time. We sharpen one another; we strengthen one another. Often God then sends us different ways, stronger and ready for the next place and people. The interactions with our friends change us and we carry their influence within us.

In 2019, I keep up with these friends on Instagram and Voxer, by text and email. We see pictures of each other’s kids; we drive to each other’s houses or vacations spots a couple of times a year. In the past, people often said goodbye until eternity.

In a Voxer conversation, a friend reminded me that God sends us out. In that moment, I realized God will also gather us back together. One day, we will sit down a feast and these dear ones will be around the table. Part of new creation will not just be dwelling with God, but also dwelling in a better form of the same community that I desire now.

The longing to be near the people of my heart is not an impractical thought to be cast aside; it’s a sign of homesickness. It’s a reminder of where I’m heading.

We aren’t home yet; we are here on mission. There is an enemy and there is work to be done, and often, we must be sent to different locations to do the work God has for us. But this is only for a short time. Soon we will gather near, overcome with the light of Jesus and the wonder of a world made new.

In the meantime, I can lament my losses. I don’t have to push away my sorrow in order to glorify God. To bring truth to this situation and to my heart, I must acknowledge all my feelings. I mourn the departure of this friend even as I am excited to see what God is doing in their lives. I will cry as I hug her children and she pulls out of my driveway. I will have moments standing somewhere where I am accustomed to her presence and her absence will be a knife in my heart. I know because I experience that with other friends.

There will be other situations where the imprint she has made on my life will be just as tangible. I have also experienced that with other friends.

You too have struggled with friendship. Friends leave. You leave. You find yourself yearning for something you don’t have. You are homesick. We will lament together; we will bring all of our experiences into the reality of God’s nearness. Then we will live acknowledging the reality of God’s presence in our pain and the future hope awaiting us.