We had an all too familiar conversation the other day in our coffee shop. The manager, who we’d developed a relationship with, shared the exciting news that she was moving on to a bigger a brighter opportunity. Who could argue with that? Let me clarify though, it was exciting news for her, but it was all too familiar and sobering for us. In my opinion and based on a good deal of experience, this is the most difficult part of investing yourself in neighborhood presence. I think its because it is the most emotional. If you choose to live into your neighborhood, you are also choosing to live into the stories of those you meet, connect with, and possibly partner with for the well being of your place. In other words, you make friends. I cannot tell you how many times my wife and I will stop in and support, visit with, and otherwise encourage our friends who make up the fabric of our place whether we need what they are offering or not. We invest heavily in local businesses and the people who are invested in their success. That means we drink coffee whether we need it or not … we hit up happy hours whether we need it or not, we shop whether we need it or not. The practice of presence requires your presence.
The reality is that change happens and we are often the ones left to start over. It would be emotionally draining for anyone but especially so for an introvert like myself. I don’t like breaking in new people. In our adventure in urban church planting, I could honestly say that this reality of change was one of the single biggest factors in our releasing the work in the neighborhood. We were constantly meeting and developing friendships with the people who worked in a handful of establishments in what was otherwise a very lonely place to exist. It often felt like we were just treading water and making very little progress. These places were vital hubs of goodness and partnerships all centered around and committed to the well being of our infant neighborhood. For three years we invested ourselves emotionally and financially … and then within about 6 months all of them either closed or sold to other owners. This reality, combined with the constant yearly exodus of our relationships built within our apartment complexes finally pushed us to the point of emotional exhaustion and we too made our exit.
Now, a few years later and a few neighborhoods away, I think we thought that we might be in a more stable place. Four months in and we found ourselves once again in a very familiar conversation with another relationship moving on. It’s frustrating, sobering, and it still even hurts some when it happens. But you need to know that we wouldn’t have it any other way. Most all of our past relationships formed through investing in our neighborhoods are actually still somewhat intact even though we are scattered throughout the city and even the country. They are different to be sure … and they have nothing to do with the well being of our current place … but they still offer a richness that we wouldn’t have in our lives if we hadn’t risked in the first place. We still find ourselves celebrating life with all of them in other ways. No matter how much we try to avoid it and wish it wasn’t so, nothing stays the same … and it often hurts … but it is so totally worth it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go work on breaking in some new people.