I have been a Christian for forty years. That means I’ve spent a lot of time in church. I’ve attended many and been a member of three, counting the one I am currently a part of. Some of my most wonderful memories were born in those churches. And some of my worst pain.
The first church our family was a part of was a home church. Our home. It began with our family sharing together, my husband, myself, and our twin daughters. We read the bible together each night after dinner and shared our thoughts concerning what we had read. We would often find ourselves gathered together in the living room, my husband and I with guitars, and our girls with whatever percussion instruments that they could invent on the spot. Most times it was a set of dinner spoons. The Lord said, “make a joyful noise” and we did. We praised God to the top of our lungs. More than once in the summer times, with the windows wide open, we would see neighbors walking by our house trying not to be obvious about their curiosity. We often wondered what they thought, but we never cared enough that it made us stop. Word did spread though, and we acquired more members of our group, eventually ending up with around fifteen “regulars.” When our girls hit their early teens we dissolved the home meetings and joined a little country chapel in our town. It was a difficult decision. The idea of saying “goodbye” to our members was terribly painful, even though we knew we’d still see them quite often. However, we knew this was the direction the Lord was taking us and we obeyed. We all shed a lot of tears the night we announced our decision, but we said our “good-byes” knowing that we did the right thing the right way.
We immediately felt loved and at home in that little country chapel. We made deep, lasting friendships and our family was heavily involved in church activities and with the people. But alas, the time came when the Lord called us out of there also. We respectfully asked the Pastor to hold an elder’s meeting because we needed to talk with them. We shared with them that the Lord was calling us to leave that church and to seek him quietly and privately at home for a season. How long, we did not know. It was one of the most painful separations I’ve ever been a part of. Painful for our family and painful for all of those who had come to love us deeply. It might have been easier for us to just “disappear” into thin air. To just stop going. But we knew that would give too much room for too many questions, and cause too many hurts. The right way to do things was to meet with the Pastor and elders and assure them that we were leaving on God’s word, not because there was anything wrong. The Pastor later told us that in all of his forty years of pastoring, he had had members just stop coming and start attending other churches, but no one ever came to him to tell him they were leaving and why, except our family. He thanked us for doing it “the right way.”
We followed the Lord’s command and sought him quietly and privately. Every night for about a year we bowed our knees in front of the living room sofa until he led us to the church we are now members of. For the first year I was reluctant and I held myself back from the people. I could not seem to let myself open up and love, or be loved, for fear of pain. I had experienced painful partings too many times before so if I didn’t let myself get attached to anyone it wouldn’t hurt so bad when someone left, or if I left.
But I am an “all or nothing” kind of girl and I found this rootless existence void of life. So I took the plunge and started to open myself up, be vulnerable, love others, and let them love me. Before I knew it I was experiencing that same warmth of sharing bread with my brothers and sisters again. Then I blinked again and a couple that I dared let myself love stopped coming. Week after week passed without their appearance. The Pastor, myself, and other members left voice mails with them inquiring if they were okay and offering our help if they needed anything. No response. No reply. Nothing. It’s been a few years now, and still none of us know why they left. We all loved them. We fellowshipped with them for years. We were all hurt deeply to have them offer no good-bye or explanation, and it left those of us who remained wounded. Not angry or unforgiving, but wounded. Like a limb had been ripped away with no anesthesia.
I have attended this church for more than ten years now. And that same ripping and tearing has happened a few more times. Now, again, very recently. And again, they just stopped showing up. The Pastor reached out, left voice mails, other members did also, and no response. No reply. Nothing. We all love them. We have fellowshipped with them for years, and we are all hurt. Again.
I listened as a woman shared her painful story. I watched her tears fall as she recalled countless times of being “shut out.” The nature of her husband’s job demanded that they move every two years or so. She told of repeatedly becoming established in a church, how they would make friends there, only to have those “friends” shun and ignore them when it came time for them to leave. As Christians, we should be ashamed of this.
So what’s my point? 1 Corinthians 14:40 says, “let all things be done decently and in order.” The Apostle Paul traveled all over and he always said good-bye to those he left behind. (Acts 20:37-38) Jesus himself prepared his disciples for his departure. (Matthew 20:17-19). The bible is splashed with good-byes all throughout. In Genesis 31:28 Laban admonishes Jacob for leaving quietly in the middle of the night without giving him the chance to say good-bye to his daughter and grandchildren.
It hurts deeply when someone you love just drops out of your life with no explanation. Christians should learn this valuable lesson. If, in the future, we are called in a different direction, do things God’s way, consider others feelings over your own, and tell them good-bye. It will still hurt them. It will feel like painful surgery, only with anesthesia. The pain will eventually heal. It won’t leave a scar like ripping and tearing away a piece of them with no anesthesia at all does. Let us truly love one another as Jesus has loved us.