My heart hurts. It seems like my heart aches most of the time. Before I had children, before I fought for my marriage, before I really experienced some of the darkness of the world, my heart didn’t feel so much. I grimace now, when I reflect on the past. I am embarrassed by my judgments and criticisms. I ache over those I have lost because I failed to be transparent and vulnerable with them. Life has served me well with its troubles and pain; it is largely because of them that I learned to love people.
But I wish life lessons didn’t cost so much.
My heart is troublesome to me now. I am still resilient and strong, but my heart aches so much these days. Nick was watching a scene from Book of Eli recently and I wasn’t really paying attention. But even in my distracted activities, my spirit heard the screams of a woman about to be raped by two villains and I nearly had a panic attack. I wasn’t enthralled by the drama as I once would have been. I didn’t get caught up in the storyline. It didn’t matter that soon the hero would sweep in and save the day. My spirit rose up and burned in pain because the fictional soundtrack sincerely communicated the heart of a woman was being abused. There seemed to be no defender for her, and I literally curled up in a ball. Physically, my body responded to my sudden panic. I closed my eyes and covered my ears like a small child, trying to shut it out. I tried to tell Nick to fast forward but the words came out slurred and choppy and he couldn’t understand. Everything in me was shutting out and shutting down. It seems love has broken the crust away from me. Ideally, this was what I might have asked for—that God would break me open. I didn’t know I relied on that crusty shell so much, to filter my spirit from input better ignored.
I am hurting today, again. I am aching—once again with a burden I could once have filtered away, labeled and stored, quite conveniently. But this time, the ache is a hole that someone left when they left me.
I wish people would say goodbye.
I realize with my adult mind that people move on; it is a fact of life, and that any mature, logical mind must adapt. Nick and I have had difficult transitions in life; we have learned that it takes great courage to say goodbye. It is far easier to leave, in the stillness of the night, or through a casual fade, then it is to cleanly adjourn to a new course. I will always remember the day Nick drove to Leesburg, Virginia to say goodbye to someone we deeply respected. He texted me in panic from their home, nervous and intimidated. I pray-texted back, begging God to honor our desire to be people of character. We were desperate for God to give Nick an opening. Within ten minutes, Nick had not only had a full-on miraculous conversation concerning our departure, but also a cash gift of blessing.
Goodbye is difficult—sometimes because we don’t know it’s goodbye until we’re gone. Goodbye requires an explanation, which is easier not to give. Goodbye requires confrontation, which makes us vulnerable. It demonstrates respect, which is humbling. Goodbye is difficult but necessary. Life is full of changed courses and new directions.
But in recent months, several people who I love have simply faded away in the passing of life. People who are my friends. People whom I was falling in love with. People whom I was beginning to reveal myself to, build relationships with. People who said “let’s have a coffee date soon” or “we want to have dinner with you guys” but their invitations never extended beyond the hypothetical.
Suddenly, they are gone and I hardly know how to ask what happened. I don’t know if they changed or if I offended them. I don’t know if I wasn’t friend enough, spiritual enough, loving enough, interesting enough. I wonder if I am just another local bumpkin that was easily discarded in pursuit of greater destiny. I find myself wanting to invite conversation but I worry that I’m missing the coded message to keep my distance.
You know when you pull a plant from the ground, like a tree, and a crater remains where the roots once sank deep? I have a crater in my heart like that for each of these people. I am starting to feel like Swiss cheese. I have real estate within me that is in limbo—do these people still desire to have relationship with me, or should I fill in the holes and plant anew?
They didn’t say goodbye and because I love them more than I love myself, I don’t know whether to respect the distance or to cross the chasm in pursuit of the answers my heart is aching for. It would be easier if the defensive crust on my heart remained—for then, I could simply be angry that I was easily discarded. Or I could be arrogantly skeptical about their undefined direction. I could be judgmental about the weakness they demonstrated when they left without goodbye. But I do not seek to protect myself—my heart’s deepest craving is restoration. I don’t care that they’re flawed—as Paul admitted, I am chief of the flawed. Their flaws only attract me closer. It is what endeared me to them in the beginning.
How is it, that someone so loved, someone with so many wonderful companions, someone so blessed, can still feel the chasms they left behind? I am so loved with such affection. And yet my heart aches for a few. This realization is startling! My mind is drawn to the parable of the shepherd who left the 99 in search of the one that was lost.
Suddenly it makes sense. In the realization that my heart is becoming more and more like my Father’s, of course I miss them. It is because no one can fill the place they were designed for. Each person is so special, so unique, so wonderfully made. I miss them because we are a Body—for all our divisions, for all our diverse perspectives and viewpoints, we are ultimately one unit. I miss them because I am designed to. I miss them because I must.
Unity is a tough thing. We like to pretend that it’s a two-way street, like ballroom dancing or making a baby. But unity is a state of heart. It is the refusal to be separated. It is a stubborn loyalty to the man over the matter. It is an absolute decision.
I will choose unity. Even though there was no goodbye, no explanation, I still get to choose. I choose unity. I choose to love, to be of one mind, to be of the Body. I choose to fully embrace them as Brother, as Sister, as heartbeat. I choose to stay vulnerable to my need of them. And if that means I ache, if that means a lifetime sentence to being confused as to where they went, that’s okay. I am not my own. I will surrender to missing them—so that in all things, my heart is fully invested in their success, in their fulfillment, in their encouragement. Like Jesus, I will love without demanding.
So because I choose, because He lives dynamically in me, I can forgive the non-goodbye. I will let love fill in the places that feel abandoned, the relationships that feel discarded.
To a heart filled with love, there is no goodbye. Perhaps I’m a late comer to this lesson.
Perhaps the reason they didn’t say goodbye is because in the Kingdom, goodbye does not exist.