I’m not sure if it’s harder to leave or be left. When was the last time someone left you? When was the last time you left? A job, a relationship, a place, a church, a ministry, or a direction? Was change joyful or painful, clear or shocking? Did you choose it, or was it thrust on you? Did it come after wrestling, or in a flash? Did it leave scars, produce strength, or both? I’m sure no matter which end you’re on, it isn’t easy for lovers or leavers.
Leaving assumes letting go. There’s also a beginning, but there’s space in between where there’s a lot of unknown. My favorite book about that space is The Land Between by Jeff Manion. I read it during a personal time in between, and then gave it to someone else stuck in the pause between departure and arrival. That time, we were the leavers, and every moment was a collision of feelings making me want to – need to – understand.
Though being left or being a leaver can be hard, there are good things to be sifted from it. Recently, I found myself saying goodbye to leavers in multiple spaces of my life, and it reminded me of a good thing – goodbye gifts – I found along the way. When last we left, I learned from a host of lovers – friends and acquaintances –who were being left. They showed me what to do when someone leaves.
Departures is awkward, because we don’t know the future. If we aren’t going, we can’t know all that led to the leaving, and we aren’t sure what lies ahead. We want to know, but we can’t.
When I’ve left, I’ve been strengthened, affirmed, and comforted when lovers have been quiet. If leaving is hard, it’s harder to be asked a lot of questions, even if there are good answers. I learned how helpful it is when people don’t insert commentary or pretend to know the journey when we hardly get it ourselves. It was also helpful when people didn’t talk about our journey to others in a way that made the change something it wasn’t.
It may make us feel better to try to say the “right” thing, but in the space between ending and beginning, it’s often better to say nothing.
Leaving isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may be God’s best. When I reflect on the times I’ve departed, mixed images come to mind. Airports, classrooms, city streets, houses, churches, watery eyes, hugs. There were quiet times, but there were also times when staying people cared by saying something.
- Lovers spoke words of appreciation, recalling the content of my life there.
- They spoke words of truth to shore up my faith when I felt shaky.
- They prayed with me, verbally and in writing, so I could hear them talk to God about my need for guidance, comfort and joy.
In the space between leaving and arriving, people said something good. They didn’t let silence become deafening. They spoke up and let me know I was cared about and valued on both sides of the leaving.
If change is a surprise, it’s easy to feel the urge to do something. But just being present may be “something” that means everything. Like when a dear friend just let me lay on her couch and “not be alone” during a leaving. Or when a friend invited us to their church and to “slip in the back” and worship, without obligations to do more than just “be.” Or when a friend packed my office with me, without needing to talk about what was or what might be.
Friends might feel so worried about not doing the right thing that they might be tempted to stay at a safe distance. It’s helpful to have friends be present when we’re in between.
Sometimes, it really does help to do something. I have learned from masters of caring what doing good in change looks like.
- They hug without strings attached.
- They write notes to insert reminders of care.
- They serve when they know you won’t be around to help back.
- They schedule coffee or lunch, because they value being together.
- They celebrate friendship and time you’ve had together.
- They pray for you when you’re not even there.
- They give practical help when a move, yard sale or job search is involved.
- They gather people to cover you in love and send you off knowing you matter.
Lovers do something helpful. Is someone you know leaving? Do you love the leaver? It’s not too late for us to do something helpful.
- Say nothing. Say something!
- Do nothing. Do something!
Leaving may be hard, but it can also be loving.