Leaving. Here we have a word that evokes many emotions: opportunity, sorrow, bitterness, hope. In the course of your life you will leave many times. You will leave jobs; you may leave the state. You will leave houses. But most importantly, you will leave people.
When you leave, I urge you to leave the right way.
Part of the liturgy of organized religion includes the benediction. This invites a blessed parting of ways as we leave a wedding ceremony, a church service, or a fellowship time: Grace and peace to you in God our Father.
The Bible is full of benedictions. They mark the closing of a time together and the prayer for goodwill for each party involved.
But there is upset. The world without God replaces benediction with “burnt bridge.” This is a common theme of pop music and culture. Some of the most popular songs on the radio today are about leaving relationships the wrong way. “Your stuff is to the left,” or, “Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over.”
It’s catchy and it sells, mostly because it is absolutely accessible to the masses who hear it and feel their hearts resonate with the same pain. The consequence of this pain, however, is a deep seed of bitterness that affects every other relationship in our lives.
The reason for this relational carnage is that we do not know how to leave the right way. There are times in our lives that we will leave people in both positive and negative circumstances. This is unavoidable and, even in the Bible, there are many stories of people who love God but cannot get along and, as a result, have to part ways.
So it will happen, and in some cases, no matter how right it is, the leaving will be very difficult and possibly very messy. But there is a way to leave on good terms no matter how hard the leaving is. How is this accomplished?
First, let people know that you are leaving. This seems obvious, but we have sunk to such an elementary place that sometimes we just disappear altogether from a relationship or group without even telling anyone. Muster your dignity (that rare thing found these days) to tell people that you are leaving rather than just abandoning them.
Next, leave in person. These days, electronic communication is often used to avoid conflict. People say hard things and even end a relationship via an impersonal text message. Facebook and Twitter are used to say what we want to say to a person but don’t have the guts to say in person.
Away with all this passive-aggressive behavior! When you’re leaving, recover the human side of yourself and value the other person enough to let them know face to face.
Finally, leave in gratitude. This works to preserve the future of a relationship and the worth of the person involved. Let them know that you are thankful for the time you have had together. Surely there is something to be appreciated. And once you’re gone, don’t spread poison about the person or group you have left. Speak of them well and sincerely wish them the best.
Whether it’s a boyfriend, a church or a social group, leave right when you leave. It will leave others with a good taste in their mouths; moreover, it will keep your heart from growing bitter and you’ll be ready to love the next person who is going to experience you.
The Rev. Jeff Miller is the pastor of The Vineyard Community Church in Augusta.