I did learn something....saying goodbye to church family is hard.
The word "Pastor" hangs outside my office, and because it does, I have felt that my skin needs to be beyond thick, that I cannot feel and that I need to be happily understanding of every situation. If this post offends you I apologize and hope that I'm not violating some "code" by admitting that my heart is soft and can bruise.
My Dad was a Pastor too, always small churches. Because the churches were small, I understood it was of the utmost importance that we kept every person in the church from leaving the church. But of course that's an impossible task, and from time to time people would become bored with my Dad's preaching, or would disagree with him, or feel that it was a time for change and leave the church. That would throw my Dad into the emotional pit of discouragement and my Mom told me that it was up to her and I to pull him out of it.
Don't know if we ever did.
When I felt the call to service to the church I was relieved that the options available to me were in larger churches, where I thought I wouldn't have to fear the paralyzing reality of rejection when people left. And for the most part that has been true. People have come, people have gone. I have been able to "bless them as they go." But during the 7 1/2 years that I've been at the church where I'm at now, they have truly become my family. (and being an only child with no cousins closer than Southern Ontario reinforces that) I love them. I cook with them. I eat with them. I sit at their bedsides when they're dying. I hang out with them when they've been admitted to the Psych Ward. I'm in their hospital room when they find out their baby has died. I rejoice with them when life suddenly hands them a bowl of cherries. I laugh with them when their dreams come true. We go shopping. We go to restaurants. When they think they hear the voice of God I help them discern. I love them. They are my family.
They are my kid's family too.
And when, for whatever reason, they feel called away - I've been brave. In some cases I truly understand their reasoning for leaving. In finding out what some people truly believe I've said to them, "Oh ya, you need to go." But in this years' church shuffle that inevitably finds itself happening around this time, it struck me differently than before.
Because I felt like I was losing my family. Family I cried with. Family I laughed with. Family who walked with me through dark days. Family that rejoiced with me when ashes were turned into beauty.
I wasn't disappointed with them for leaving because I felt like they owed me something for all the years of service I had given to them.
I was sad because of what they had given me. The gift of family. And I didn't want to lose that.
So I automatically do what I do when people leave, I unfollow them from my timeline. (Because most of the time, when people leave the church, they start posting about how great their life is now that they're at a new church. Sorry folks, can't go there. Too soon.) I distance myself from them relationally. I redirect my mind so my sadness can't linger.
Usually that works.
But this year my grief is more tender than usual. I let my tears flow a little more freely.
I feel the cost of loving people. Again.