When my sister was in her senior year of high school, she had to take a class called “Death & Dying.” I don’t think I need to explain what the class is about, but when I took that same class at that same high school six years later, they had changed the name of the course to “Alpha & Omega.” The school did this renaming for two reasons:
1) “Death & Dying” was apparently too morbid.
2) They wanted to talk about beginnings as well as endings.
Still, death was very prominent in this course, and I remember reading an essay about mourning the various “deaths” we encounter throughout our lives. Some deaths are concrete–the death of a loved one, or confronting our own mortality. However, some deaths are more abstract–the death of our childhood, the death of a marriage.
Over the past 4 years, I did grieve the deaths of several family members and friends. These deaths are difficult to think about, because when I do I am reminded that I didn’t get to know some of my relatives very well before they died, and vice versa. Now I can’t visit any of these people and talk to them.
Those were not my only losses, though, because over the past 4 years I’ve mourned many friendships. Some of these friendships disintegrated, some were cut down at my own hand, and some just…evaporated. I mourned the loss of the youth group at my church. We went from having 25 members to having almost no one. And yes, I lost these friendships, too. Sure, sometimes a few keep in touch. I’ll give someone a life on Candy Crush Saga, or they’ll wish me a happy birthday when it’s that time of the year. But otherwise, we do not confide, we do not converse, we do not pray for one another, we do not call each other, we do not hang out. At all.
Everyone left for different reasons. Some left on bad terms. Some wanted to go to a different church. Some simply left without a trace. And some wanted to walk away from God.
Most of these people who left did not say goodbye to me. And you see, when somebody dies, that’s usually one of the first complaints of the person who grieves–“I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye! I didn’t get to tell them that I love them! I didn’t get to make peace with them before they passed on!” But when the person is still alive and they exit your life, and you don’t get any closure–it just stings. Can I track some of these people down? For sure. I know where some of them live, I’m friends with many of them on Facebook, I even still have some of their phone numbers. What’s the point of it, though, if chances are they won’t be receptive? After all, they haven’t bothered reaching out to me, so why should I reach out to them?
That’s when I realize, though–maybe they’re thinking the same thing. Maybe they get sentimental for the good old days, too. Maybe they want to contact me, or contact someone else who left, but they’re afraid to because we’re all afraid of the same thing–
For those of us who still follow Christ, though, we have no excuse. If we truly are brothers and sisters, why can’t we get along? If my mom or my sister moved to a different house, I wouldn’t disown them. So why do we, as Christians, get into such an uproar when someone leaves our church to go to another?
It partly has to do with how they left, and why they left. What did they leave behind? Did they cause division? Do they speak badly of us now that they’ve left? Did they get into a fight with someone prior to their leaving?
I took some of it personally in the beginning. In my mind, I kept making the situation about me–why didn’t they say goodbye to me? What did I do wrong? We were working on the same ministry team–why didn’t they tell me they were going to jump ship? After awhile, though, I tried to understand their story, their side. Some of these people were abandoned themselves, and maybe they don’t know how to respectfully leave a person or a place. Some of these people had serious issues and needed help. Some of these people felt humiliated and didn’t want to make the situation any bigger.
Now, I can understand these things. I forgive those who have left and I still love them all. I still mourn from time to time, but as time passes by, I can relive the memories without crying.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)