Mj recently mentioned that she had friends at her former church who sadly, she no longer hears from any more. For those of us who leave churches, for whatever reason, friendships are one of the things that we often lose as a result.
There are many friendships at church where just like in the workplace, once you move on, you don’t have any reason to see the people again, even though you may have gotten along very well. Finding the time to pursue friendships when you no longer just come across one another in the course of your weekly activities is not always easy, and takes effort on both sides. Some friendships will cease when we move on from a church, for this reason alone.
Other times, depending upon the reason for leaving, people may no longer want to be associated with you. They may regard you as rebellious or backslidden, especially if you no longer attend any church at all. They may be concerned that you will be a bad influence on them or others. If you were critical of your former church or its practices, sometimes people may even be discouraged from being in contact with you. In extreme cases, people are shunned.
Many of us will fortunately have some friendships which do stand the test of someone moving on – obviously this won’t be everyone we know, but those who we have a deeper connection with, or get on with particularly well, where both people do make effort to find the time to continue their relationships. Some of these friendships may last years, or even a life time. They are to be highly valued. I believe that these people are often the ones that God puts into our lives to be our ‘church’ over the long term. They are often the ones we can share deep issues with; we may have differences of opinion but the friendship will remain; we can support one another over time in ways that matter, and not as a program dictates. We may have met some of these friends in a church, but the friendships survive well beyond the building or organisation.
It is especially difficult for people when they have been involved in a particular church for many years, and practically all their non-work friendships and social network are there. When they leave, if the connection to that network is withdrawn, it can be like losing a loved one. People there go on without you; you are no longer invited to social activities; slowly you drop off the radar. Yet you may have thought you were loved by these people – and loved them in return. Maybe some people see you, but only with the agenda of getting you back in again, or dealing with any guilt they may have relating to your situation. You may question what the friendship actually ever was. You may have no other network of friends to fill the hole left, yet it is impossible to just return.
How can people deal with these things? How long does it take to get through the loss of an entire network of friends? Is there anything that can help?