This year our YL team was blessed to have eight leaders working together at one high school, but due to different circumstances (New job, college transfer, life change, moving, etc....), our team has sadly dwindled down to three. We're hopeful of some new leaders coming on board this summer, but also mourning a real loss of friends whom we locked arms with in ministry.
While it is hard for us to say goodbye to our teammates, I also realize that it isn't easy on our high school friends. Change is hard. Trust is expensive. Abandonment issues are real.
How do we say goodbye to our high school friends?
Nine years ago I worked at a place called The Dale House Project in Colorado Springs that Young Life helped start over forty years ago. It's a residential care facility for at-risk teenagers who cannot return home. During my one year internship there, the lead counselor on our staff, Jim, spent some time training us interns on how to say goodbye. He was firm in urging us to not make promises that we couldn't keep. The specific population of kids we were working with had been repeatedly abandoned and rejected by their families and friends. Now we had come into their lives for a short time, loved them in a way they had never experienced, and now we also were leaving them. It wasn't easy. It didn't seem right. It hurt deeply, both us and the kids.
Jim encouraged us to speak to the kids in a language that was honest, loving, and leaving. He prompted us to say things like:
-I'm so thankful for the time we have shared together and so sad to have it end.
-Sadly, our relationship is probably never going to be the same that it is has been this year.
-I want to keep in touch with you, but I also know that life and distance will not make that as easy as it has been.
-I will pray for you when I think of you.
-I will miss you when I'm gone.
In this digital age we have the tendency to make false promises. We think because we're facebook friends we can be real friends, when in reality its much more difficult when your paths aren't crossing regularly. In our busy lives, it's typically true: "out of sight, out of mind."
I heard a pastor speak of Dunbar's number and explain that we all have a relational capacity of around 150 people. Yet when I became a Young Life leader I was told to "make friends like you are going to know them for the rest of your life." That year alone I became friends with over 150 high schoolers, and now, many years later, those numbers have continued to grow.
I think I missed one key word during that YL Leader training. "Make friends LIKE you are going to know them for the rest of your life." As leaders, we are to befriend kids with the mentality that we would love to be a groomsmen or bridesmaid in their wedding one day, to be roasting them at their 40th birthday party, to be old friends smoking cigars together on that "YL Alumni 100th Year Reunion Caribbean Cruise 2041." But we must also not be so arrogant to think that without us in their lives, they will never know Christ or have others love them and influence them in the Way of Jesus. God calls people in and out of our lives for specific seasons.
The reality is that we are not going to know all of our high school friends for the rest of our lives. So...we must learn how to say goodbye.
Do you know a YL leader who is "retiring?" Feel free to share this with them by clicking the Email/Twitter/Facebook links below this post.
("How To Say Goodbye: Part 2" will be posted tomorrow.)