When Jesus told us to “go to all the world,” “go” meant leave!
Leave home. Leave family. Leave what’s familiar, and go to what is strange to you.
For a missionary, all the studying, fundraising, preparation and planning marches inexorably to this point: time to “go.” Two letters. One small step into the aircraft door. One big turning point.
That moment can be an intensely lonely moment, both for those leaving and those who are left. However, both parties are in company with a lot of people in today’s world. Jerry Jones, a blogger who lives in China and writes for expatriates all over the world, cites the following statistics:
- If expats were a country, they’d be the fifth largest country in the world.
- One expat moves every 44 seconds.
That’s a lot of leaving!
How does a person navigate this threshold well?
I’ve “left” a number of times through my life, and I’ve also been left. Sometimes I left well, and other times, I didn’t.
To me, leaving well means having your relationships intact at the end and arriving at your destination with some gas still left in your emotional tank. There’s no rule book, and no two people have the same experience of leaving.
If you are the one leaving, here are some tips to strengthen yourself and those you love.
Clear up relationship breakages as much as possible.
This is an opportunity to make sure you have cleared up any unresolved conflicts.
I think this responsibility usually falls to the one leaving. If you’re even thinking about a situation as you read this, you will likely have to take the initiative on this one. It’s not easy, but it’s so important.
If you leave without doing this, you’ll carry too much weight with you. And you’ll leave a wake behind you. It’s really important. I know. I’ve experienced it and wished I could have a do-over.
Express love and affirmation.
This is an opportunity to celebrate your relationships and affirm those you love.
Say the loving words, give the hugs, make time to be together and express how special this person is to you.
Don’t be afraid to tell each other how the leaving makes you feel. Sometimes we think we should not let the other person see that this hurts because we are trying to make it easier on them.
It’s not uncommon for people to fight just before they have to say goodbye to each other. Anger can be a response to pain; it would be easier to say goodbye while I’m mad at you. Only it’s not, really.
If someone is avoiding you, it may be an attempt to avoid the pain of saying goodbye. It may be your friend or loved one feels rejection because you’ve chosen to leave. At least make an effort to reach out to this person and express your affection.
For even more from Beth, check out her best tips for leaving well in the video below.
Be kind to yourself.
This is a physically and emotionally demanding experience. Get good nutrition and rest.
Many people get sick just before they leave. Our physical and spiritual beings are tied together, and when we are experiencing extra stress, our immune systems get overloaded.
Give yourself time to exercise, even briefly; take those vitamins, and eat carefully. It’s hard because everyone wants to treat you to those last special meals. Taste everything, but don’t overload. “YOLO” is not your motto here!
Ask for help.
Think of practical ways people can help you, such as shopping for you, sealing boxes, moving large items, cleaning, babysitting, providing meals, etc. When they ask, tell them what they can do!
On my latest move, two people asked if they could help me. They weren’t people who were especially close to me, and I was hesitant to say yes. But I did need help packing kitchen and household goods, so I accepted. We got a lot done that day. And we also shared, cried and prayed together. I heard stories I had never heard from them before.
Manage your emotions.
The stress of moving overseas will affect your emotions — maybe even in some ways that surprise you.
You may go stone cold and silent, focusing on your tasks and not letting yourself think about the sadness of leaving. That works for getting things done. It doesn’t work for “heart” health. Remember, there are emotions under there that you’ll need to process at some point. Be grateful you can function to accomplish necessary tasks, but be aware of how your emotions may surface in other ways.
You may be weepy and find it hard to concentrate. Do what you can when you can, even if it’s the middle of the night! Don’t believe your dire and anxious thoughts; believe the promises God gave you for this time.
You may be really excited about finally going to the place you’ve been thinking and talking about! But you might also feel guilty because others around you are sad you’re leaving. Embrace the paradox. Rather than canceling each other out, joy and pain can exist together!
You may have nightmares and struggle with anxiety. Pray for protection for your mind and heart. Then, think of this time as “choppy waters,” and ask for grace to ride through it.
Be on your guard spiritually.
The first time I left as a missionary, our term was to be four years. As I packed my suitcases, a voice said very clearly in my head, “You will never see your mother again.”
My heart nearly stopped, and all the strength went out of my body. Woodenly, I continued doing all that needed to be done, but I could barely breathe. Was God warning me that this would be the last goodbye? I told no one, not even my husband until we were on the other side of the ocean.
As it turned out, this was a lie. My mother visited me twice in our country of service; she was able to enjoy my children and watch them grow up, and I was with her when she crossed her own threshold into the next life.
Remember, there is one who opposes your act of obedience to Christ’s call to “go” — and he will try to harass and intimidate you.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we must test the spirits. Jesus will never make me afraid and weak. He will look straight into my eyes and tell me I am His and we can do this together.
I remember parting with my college-age son as we left for our last overseas assignment. He stood and watched us walk down the airport corridor as far as he could see us. When we had to turn the corner and his figure was no longer visible, my knees nearly buckled.
How grateful I was that Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He would be with my son. He would be with me. I could go.
Looking for more missions resources like this one? Check out TEAM’s Pinterest boards for a curated collection of resources to help you prepare to leave and thrive overseas.