Take a minute to look back on your life so far…how many people who you thought would be in your life forever are no longer in it? How many relationships you thought would never change have changed… for better or worse.
As cynical as this sounds, I saw the limitations of human relationships at a young age. The brevity of people’s devotion to me and mine to them. So in every new setting, I would find one or two people and choose to invest in them. I wouldn’t neglect the others, but I wasn’t going to let my emotional connection to them surpass a certain level.
This was my defense mechanism. I don’t like saying goodbye. And if I do have to say goodbye, keeping in touch with one or two people is easier than keeping in touch with six or seven.
Christian ministry is chock full of goodbyes. Even this past year, my sister got married and moved to Long Island. A family dear to me moved to the middle east to be missionaries. Godly people in my life have died. What’s the point of relationships if they’re bound to change or end on this side of death?
I’ve been learning, on a deeper level, who I seek glory for in my relationships. Me! Even in my sweetest and healthiest relationships, I’m learning that I want to be made happy, I want to be encouraged, I want companionship. I wouldn’t say these things are bad but what I failed to embrace is that even our relationships that serve us in all these ways are also meant to bring glory to God. They cannot remain exactly the same forever but in whichever stage any of our relationships are in, they have a purpose. For example, I draw on teachings from my middle school Sunday school teachers to this day… even though many of those teachers are not in my life now as they used to be.
Consider the sons of Zebedee leaving their father behind in the boat to follow Jesus or the many times Paul left those he loved to continue the work of the Lord only to meet more people he’d grow to love and have to leave. As we know, there is a cost to following Jesus but for those who love the Lord, the purpose behind each relationship – whether it’s to sanctify, encourage, teach, rebuke— will last even if the relationship itself doesn’t. Each blessing is meant to bring glory to the One who blesses.
A thought that encouraged me in this matter is this – At the start of summer when we had finished going through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as a church, I remember thinking about the struggle both Ezra and Nehemiah had to go through to follow their call. They endured risk, opposition, labor. And at the end of the books, the people as a whole were right back where they started. So I wondered…what on earth was it all for? But the very fact that we as a church learned more about our God through these books centuries later proved that following their call and obeying their God fulfilled a far greater purpose than Ezra and Nehemiah probably imagined.
So we need not despair or cling to a life we feel is slipping away but rejoice knowing that His purposes for even our changing, sometimes brief relationships can transcend even time and space. Not to mention, for those who are in Christ, our broken and short lived friendships here will one day be no more. We look forward to the day we are reunited with fellow believers to worship Jesus unhindered for all eternity.
Sheryl Mathew is a member at GRC.