I recently moved house and city and was surprised at how painful it was to say goodbye to the friends we had made during the three years we lived there. Even though it was only a forty minute car ride away, it was excruciating.
Our cleaning lady took it especially bad. She had also become a friend and her granddaughter plays with my daughter. She would cry every time she came over. She reported that her daughter had said, “I will never be friends with anyone again.” She told her daughter, “That’s the way life is. There are comings and goings.”
That’s the way life is
I used to think I was the only one who had this special condition in life of having to say goodbye to friends. My parents immigrated, so we always lived far away from family. We moved houses a couple of times. When I turned 18, I moved to another country and have since moved houses six times. It seems I have a tendency to make friends who are American or foreign, are here temporarily, and then move back. I thought it was a peculiarity of mine. “All my friends move away”, I would whine.
Now with my cleaning lady’s lament, I realized that’s the way it is for everyone. Even if you never move house or city or country, you will have friends and family members who will. You will meet people, love them, get attached, then they will move away. It is hard to keep in touch. People also seem to die quite often. Friends die, siblings die, your children might die… worse, your spouse might die. I heard an expression once that life is like a bus: people are always getting on and off (being conceived and dying).
Avoid all entanglements
So this is the way life is. What can we do about it? Maybe we can have the same reaction as my cleaning lady’s daughter and “never be friends with anyone again.” This reminds me of a famous C.S. Lewis quotes from The Four Loves:
“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I once saw a TV show about recovering drug addicts in which a woman described how the most difficult thing about being off drugs was dealing with her emotions. She described how she would come home from work and would be feeling all kinds of things: anger, sadness, anxiety, etc. Instead of shooting up to numb the pain and her emotions, she had to find new ways to deal with them.
How often do we numb our emotions, our pain, our loneliness? I loved Matt Maher’s recent Instagram post in which he gives advice to himself 30 years ago. Everything Matt Maher says is beautiful (he is a singer, check out his music!), but this was especially inspiring: “Every heartache is a song waiting to happen so don’t flinch, let it hit you head on.”
“Saudade”, or longing
I read Daniel C. Mattson’s book, Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay, and my favorite chapter is called “The Gift of Loneliness”. He quotes Henri Nouwen in saying: “The wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon – a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding” (The Wounded Healer, p.84).
I love country music because it is all about heartache. I feel it reflects life. “Play a country song backwards”, goes the saying (you get your house back, you get your dog back, etc.).
I also love Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the end of each book makes me sad. They are just getting settled in a little house somewhere, Pa thinks the crops are just about to come in, they are just starting to make some friends and BOOM! Something happens to make them pack up and move all over again.
One of my friends
My friend is writing a PhD thesis about theology and fado, which is a typical Portuguese style of music. Fado music is all about “saudade” which means longing, nostalgia, missing someone or something. I have frequently heard that this is what our earthly life is all about. We have a longing for God. We have a longing for Heaven. We are incomplete creatures. It is at the same time something familiar, our origin, and something we are far away from. “O God, you are my God, it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, In a land parched, lifeless, and without water” This is the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 63:2, but this theme is recurrent throughout the Psalms and all of Scripture.
This is the way life is. What can we do about it? Feel it. Give of ourselves to others without calculation. Let our love pour out and give fruit, even though the fruit is not ours and we don’t know what will happen to it or where it will go. Accept heartache and heartbreak. Offer it to God. Write songs about it like Matt Maher or in my case, write articles.
“When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side. A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” (Matthew 8:18-20)
God doesn’t want us attached to places or even people. He wants us detached, ready to follow Him, cross oceans and foreign lands as His apostles. He doesn’t want our hearts small and confined to one location or person. He wants them as big as the world and as big as His. There are lots of goodbyes in this world and there is a lot of pain. But we are all headed to a big, welcoming feast where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Revelation 4:21). So grab as many people as you can and bring them with you.