Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends who are searching for better stories to live. Most of the time, I’ve been tempted to tell them to stay and make a difference where they are. But I don’t always do that, because for some of them, it would be like giving them a pill to swallow.
Back in college, I remember this one time during finals week when everyone was frantic about homework due and tests written. I really didn’t want to study so I went on this long monologue about how we were wasting our lives at the university when we should be out there feeding babies and helping the disenfranchised. I remember zoning in on all the lives that were being snuffed out while we wrote useless papers and memorized empty facts.
While I was, of course, primarily trying to justify my unwillingness to work hard by dismissing grades as useless, I was also giving voice to something that was true to me even during those times when there was no studying needing to be done. Even now, I can’t help but wonder what path I would have taken had I someone who recognized the legitimate questions behind my drama and pushed me to be brave about asking them.
So I made it a point to never discourage my children from expressing their curiosity, and to never give them the impression that God would be angry, or afraid, of their questions. And I try to do the same with my friends.
I think heroes have shown us that life really is a journey, and all journeys involve leaving of some sort. I realize this is the most honest response I have for my children, and for my friends. It is also the path that I try to take when I need to.
Granted, not every stop on the road is an opportunity to change directions. I was reminded of this some evenings ago. A good friend and I were chatting about his plans to move somewhere else to pursue something I suggested to him six years ago. I made a comment on the wasted years, he said something about how he needed the previous years to help him get to this point of decision. So now I’m really glad he rejected my impulsiveness and chose to stay the course, for the time being.
But when leaving is the next step, then leaving should take place. Why? Because choosing to stay can only lead to stagnation, and stagnation stinks after a while.
My husband and I made a decision some months ago that involved some upsetting changes—including leaving, that made our children sad. Their hurt gnawed at my confidence in our choice, and worried me at all hours of the day. That was, until yesterday, when both boys told me they were glad we made the decision we did. The older one gave a meaningful explanation for his change of heart. The younger one simply agreed with his older brother, with emphatic nods and anecdotes he felt fit the discussion.
Even after all these years, I don’t have a formula for anyone wanting to make a change in their lives. We’ve all got different stories to live, and my choices are unique from the ones my closest friend has to make. So I will refrain from giving advice. All I know is, and it may be too simplistic for some, if one’s dissatisfaction with his/her story comes from a place of genuine desire for significance and authenticity, then one would do well to act on it. And sometimes, just sometimes, being impulsive is the best way to clear the first hurdle.
I’m not quite sure what the future looks like for my friends. I have a feeling the different paths they take will prove thorny, and bumpy, and even scary. I’m pretty sure they’ll bruise their knees, skin their knuckles, nurse bumps on their heads. But I do know if they are faithful, they will be forces to be reckoned with. And they’ll sleep better at night.
So if, and when, I wave goodbye to my friends, I know I will feel much like Tom Bombadil did when Frodo and company left his presence to continue with their quest. And I will be sad. But I will be excited as well, and will look forward to hearing about their adventures. And I know I will live more vicariously through them.