I led discussion at life group last week, and the opener question we started with was a bit more somber than our meal-time mood. But I forged ahead anyway, asking, what is the hardest goodbye you’ve ever had to make?
As I thought about this question, the goodbye that loomed significant in my mind was when we drove out of Eagle River four and a half years ago, down the Alcan toward Georgia. I have described it before as the uprooting of a tree, all groaning, breaking, snapping as the entrenched roots are unceremoniously drug from the soil they’ve settled into for so long.
It’s no easy thing, putting down roots in a new place. I know the struggle all too well. And you, my friend, may know the struggle too. Whether you have military connections, your family moved for a job or just for the fun of it, or you’ve been the friend who stayed when others left, I think we all know in our souls that we weren’t made for goodbyes.
And as I sat down to write today about building friendships that last, I felt a burden on my heart for the friend who is finding herself somewhere new today, feeling as though she hasn’t had the chance to build lasting friendships due to life circumstances out of her control.
She misses the friendships from where she used to live, or the ones who had to leave her behind.
She knows she should reach out, start making new roots here.
She knows the Lord has good things for her in this place.
But…you now what feels easier?
Texting memes to your old friends instead of trying to fit into a new group.
Planning a reunion trip rather than making plans to go to that new Bible study you heard about.
Pouring out your guts over Marco Polo to your old bestie because you’re not close enough with anyone to do that on someone’s couch.
Those things feel way easier, way safer, and way more fun. And the truth is, doing those things like texting about the inside jokes, Marco-ing what’s really going on in your heart, and planning trips to see each other are so good. You’ll never hear me tell you to STOP doing those things.
Unless those things are the security blanket keeping you from putting down roots with people here, too. I still won’t tell you to stop, but what I will say is this: treasure the old, but you simply must prioritize making space in your life for the new.
Because listen, I get it. I have been in this spot many, many times. In fact, I might still be if I was living somewhere else right now. I know the struggle to put down new roots intimately. Which means I also know the dark side of only leaning on virtual relationships to sustain your heart’s need for community. The Internet, our smart phones, social – they’re blessings in so many ways. But the enemy loves to take life-lines and twist them into nooses.
Here’s what he’ll try to do with this one: He’ll take those deep, authentic friendships you built where you used to live, and he’ll sprinkle in seeds of resentment when they develop new relationships after you’ve left. He’ll sew bitterness when they can’t fully meet your friendship needs because the reality is that most of the time, you need proximity to fully meet the tangible needs of your friends. And when you’re feeling disillusioned by those long-distance friendships, he’ll make sure you remember how lonely you are because you feel like you haven’t got any friends where you actually live. You’ll ask God why he took them away and why he hasn’t given you anyone new.
I know because I’ve been there. I’ve cried because I felt like I had no friends. Because I felt alone and unsupported. Because I missed my people.
Every time I’ve been in that heart space though, God has pulled me out of it. He’s tipped my chin up, told me to look around, and move in the direction of the people actually around me. He’s showed me the power of proximity and presence when it comes to building community.
Because maybe the social media age has made us reluctant to admit it, but an essential key to authentic friendships is proximity. When we pursue community with those that live near us, we are opening ourselves up to the opportunity to truly care for each other in practical, tangible ways. We are able to do life together, to clock the hours necessary for friendship to grow. We can actually sit on each other’s couches, share meals, and have fun together. There’s just nothing that will ever replace the power of your friend being able to give you an actual hug.
I’m so thankful for the ability our technology gives us to maintain long-distance relationships. They’re so important, and it’s such a gift to be able to stay close to people who live far away in ways that generations before ours never imagined. Pouring into long-distance friendships is something that I not only believe is really important, but that I practice and prioritize in my own life and encourage for yours.
But even as we thank God for that gift, we’ve also got to accept that proximity does matter to friendship. As we’re looking to build friendships that last, we can and should try to maintain our long-distance friendships as we feel so led. But never as a replacement for the people around us right where God has placed us. Manufacture proximity if you must via technology, but first, prioritize those in actual proximity to your daily life if you want to build friendships that last.
Because we all want to be able to look back on our friendships and be able to say they’ve lasted for many years as proof of their quality. But the reality is that all we have control of is the quality of our friendships today. We have no power over who moves or where God calls us or even tragedy’s blow. But we do have control over how we love our people today. And when we choose to show up first and foremost and fully for the community in which God has placed us, we’re going to be better friends to them, because we can actually practice the second key: presence.
We all know that proximity alone isn’t a magic ticket to community. We can be around people, but not be truly with them. To build lasting community, we need to prioritize presence with those we’re in proximity with. It’s not enough to just be around those God has put in our lives, we’ve also got to lean in. Presence is the choice to introduce yourself, to look someone in the eye and listen, to share vulnerably and authentically, and even to show up when you’re tired or discouraged or not feeling it.
This is the trouble with only relying on virtual relationships to sustain our need for community. We can’t truly practice presence with them. We can manufacture proximity through calls and temporary visits, but we just can’t sit on the floor with our grieving friend when we live hundreds or thousands of miles away. We can sit on the phone, which, again, I’m so thankful for! It’s a great substitute when that’s our only option, and it’s a great way to continue to show up for long-distance friends.
But let’s never trade only having people to sit with us on the phone for seeking out someone who can sit with us on the actual cold, hard kitchen floor. We need people to hold our hand or pat our back or bring us the box of tissues from across the room. We need someone who can say, I’ll be right over. As humans, we need actual presence.
Practicing presence with those you’re in proximity with – this is the starting line for building friendships that last. We don’t know where these friendships will go, but we can choose to literally show up for those God has put around us today.
But in order to be people who prioritize proximity and presence in our friendships, I really think we need to make sure we’re being people who give our long-distance friends permission to be these kind of friends, too. Don’t be the girl who guilts your friend for telling you about new friendships she’s developing in her new place or after you’ve left. You can’t allow jealousy in here – it’ll just cripple you both. Let us be friends who cheer each other on, saying run don’t walk toward those people God has put in your life right where he’s placed you in the world. When you can’t be her people anymore, make sure she knows you want her to find new ones. She needs to hear this from you.
Friends, we can’t keep relying only on distant relationships to sustain our need for community. It’s only creating a limp in our lives as people made for authentic, face-to-face community. Yes, I hope you keep pouring into those special and oh-so-important long-distance friendships. But as you do, be a sister who encourages her friends to pour into the people God has put around her first. Those are the people who are going to be able to truly care for her when your hands are tied by distance and it just kills you. You want her to find those people because you know she needs someone to actually sit with her when you can only sit on the phone.
You weren’t made to live lonely, and you weren’t made to live online. We can trust God to grow deep relationships in our lives exactly where he’s placed us today. Let him lift your chin and actually look around at those he’s put around you, right where you are. And when you start to notice them, I hope you’ll take that first brave step and lean in.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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