By: Jess Dahl, Resonate Ellensburg
Maybe you know what it feels like to be the one who stays.
Three years ago, my closest friends moved hours away to start a church with the hope of seeing lives changed in Oregon. The years we spent with them felt like a lifetime. The amount of hours we spent packed into tiny living rooms formed family. We sent them with joy, but feeling like a piece of us was gone in the weeks that followed.
I know God asks us to send and be sent, but I forget that he can grieve with us in the scars that sacrifice can create. What does it mean to stay well when your friends have moved on, to continue the work He has started, and to endure when the hype has worn off?
Going is glamorized, staying rarely is. It takes work to stay with vision in the same place year after year. Our hearts are like scared, tired little hamsters, longing to burrow down and make a nest out of the cozy habits we create. God instead asks us to be trees rooted by streams of water who bear fruit at the appointed time (Psalm 1). Trees take time to grow. They stay rooted, open to the elements, providing shelter and shade despite storms and changing seasons. They multiply and produce seeds in their time.
As we just said goodbye to another round of friends moving to Bozeman, Bellingham, and Lethbridge, I am learning about what it means to stay behind well. In looking to scripture for help, I stumbled upon the books of 1 and 2 Timothy, written by Paul to the young man who stayed behind to carry on the work he had started. Here’s what I found.
1. Stay Open
Instead of walling up in apathy and hurt, I get to celebrate stories of friends living into who God has made them to be and share a deep camaraderie with them in mutual sacrifice. Our joy is multiplied by gospel goodbyes. Paul himself confirms this often in his letters, telling his friends in Philippi how he “loves and longs for them”, yet he always “makes his prayer with joy because of their partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:4).
Now the challenge is to stay open and vulnerable to those around me. It is easy to grow protective and calloused toward new people in my life. This shows how I wrongly view friendships as a commodity, something I can get from others to make me feel secure.
Paul encourages Timothy saying “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
No matter how alone or tired we feel, we are called to keep telling the story so that many might have their eyes opened and tell the story to others. We get to put ourselves out there over and over again, our security rooted in Christ, causing those around us to ask what makes our friendships different.
2. Stay with Intention
Staying is not a cop out. There is a difference between passive staying and active, or obedient, staying. Passive staying is paralyzation from fear. Perhaps God is calling you to go and you’re choosing to ignore it. Passive staying is choosing the safe way that makes sense to us.
Active staying is being sent where you already are, not growing apathetic or comfortable. Active staying is a choice to show up in the unglamorous, believing you are where you are on purpose. “Train yourself for Godliness”, Paul tells Timothy, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
Whether we go or stay, we are to train ourselves for godliness. When you stay in the same place for a while, it is easy to drift toward apathy. Work to remind your heart of the bigger vision. Go to your workplace with intention, to get to know your co-workers and customers deeply. Read scripture that invigorates your heart and reawakens your passions. We must war against the lie of this generation that we must always be on the go to live an exciting life. In the mundane, He is with us.
3. Stay Hopeful
“For this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
When we grow lazy, God does not. He has more for us when we engage and put ourselves out there, trusting him to give us what we need. Join in what God is doing both here and abroad in prayer. Believe that the daily toil is worth it. Church planting is a vision for what can be, playing the long game and investing in people and cities with hope. It is a lesson in learning endurance and how to be steadfast. Do not grow weary in doing good, for at just the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9).
God longs for us to be people who stay in our cities year after year with intention, hope, and openness. We must fight the urge to withdraw over time and burrow into “safety” outside of Christ. At the end of the day, we can have the courage to stay because he went before us. Whether he asks us to go or stay, He is with us always, until the end.