Anyone who has read my blog over the past couple of years knows that it’s peppered with moments that I’m now calling “Detox Discoveries.” These are “a-ha” moments when I realize something about who I really am. It’s those moments when I understand how life in professional ministry or organizational church has formed me. Well, the pain of saying good-bye to my friends has become a catalyst for another one of these moments.
As a professional pastor, when people decided to leave the church (even if they were close friends), I was able to deal with the sadness by staying busy with ministry. Sure, I was sad about people leaving. But, I had a “larger” responsibility to the “flock.” I had to keep administrating, organizing, planning, teaching, & leading. There were plenty of others who needed me to be their pastor. And, quite frankly, plenty of others who would become my friends. So the busyness of ministry became a salve for parting friendships.
But what happens when all of that is gone and all you have are friendships? What happens when the core of your personal values and the core of your community’s existence are friendships? Then what happens when friends leave? All that remains is an empty hole. Don’t misunderstand me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As we follow Christ, there are moments when we have to say good-bye.
This was driven home for me as our group completed our journey through John’s Gospel. In virtually every significant moment in John’s Gospel, Peter and John are together. They are comrades and friends, participating and stumbling about as Jesus brings the kingdom and New Creation in their midst.
But then comes that fateful moment in John 21. Jesus re-commissions Peter, placing his ministry as the Good Shepherd into Peter’s hands. He then prophesies about Peter’s future. All the while, John has been trailing behind, listening from the margins. Remember, these two have been together through everything. Peter asks, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus basically replies, “Don’t worry about him. You follow me.”
It think at that moment, Peter and John’s friendship begins to change. As each of them follows Jesus, they will walk down different roads. They have to for the sake of the kingdom and God’s goodness on earth. The birthing of God’s New Creation into their world required them to eventually follow Jesus down different life-paths.
So, friends leave. It’s a reality of life and God’s kingdom. Sometimes the birth pangs of God’s New Creation is the pain felt from parting friendships as we follow Jesus down different roads. Saying good-bye leaves a hole. And it hurts. I think this is the first time I’ve had to experience this kind of sadness and pain without using ministry as a coping mechanism. So I’m discovering that I still have a lot of growing to do.