The Word We Hate to Say

by Laura on April 27, 2012

We just said goodbye to our closest family friends here in SE Asia. It was one of those very rare relationships where everyone in the family actually enjoyed each other — the kids, the wives, the husbands. And it was community born of necessity, and desperation, and proximity. We iced Christmas cookies together, we babysat each other’s kids for appointments, we hid Easter eggs, we watched choreographed dances from the girls and cheered and video-recorded like we were watching Broadway. The men brainstormed ministry and the ladies ran a triathalon. We drank a million cups of coffee and quite a few glasses of wine over conversations that mattered, and we tasted what it meant to be known in a very-foreign place.

And, then, our friends took an exciting job at a church in North Carolina. And Tuesday, after virtual yard sales and goodbye dinners and one last lunch at their Favorite Place, we stood in the driveway around a truck piled high with black suitcases, and we said goodbye to people that mean the world to us, again.

And we know what it means to be the ones leaving, and we’ve tasted the being left, too, and I can’t really say which is harder. But I do know that it does a number on your heart, this digging-deep and this tearing-away. This goodbye followed painfully close on the heels of the hello.

When we first arrived here in SE Asia, we were invited by another missionary family over to dinner. I remember standing in the kitchen, with fans blowing the heat into our faces, while the wife offered me my first piece of advice from the field– she told me to lie. When I told her I wasn’t sure how long we would be overseas, she immediately said, “Well, listen, just lie and when people ask you, say four years or more. Otherwise, you won’t ever get asked over for dinner or make friends.”

I gave her a nickname when we left, Bitter Missionary, and vowed never to fall victim to that kind of relational-cynicsim. {Though it was obvious when I first arrived that many others already had.}

But, just a few years in, I get it. I understand more where Bitter Missionary was coming from.  Because a heart can only take so many dramatic airport goodbyes before a natural self-protection mechanism creeps in and takes over. And while I’m an adult and have perhaps the capability to cope, I watch my kids’ reactions to the loss of friends, and I cringe a little inside. Because my son told me today that he didn’t have any friends in SE Asia and asked why we just couldn’t “go back to America already, forever.

We have some close friends who now live in another city in SE Asia who’ve helped me to see the way through the brevity of many missionary relationships {I would assume similar to friendships in the military, as well.} The husband grew up here as a missionary kid himself, and he told us that his parents used to say to him about the frequent changing of friendships, “The relationship is always worth the goodbye.”

 The relationship is always worth the goodbye.

And I am finding this statement to be deeply, deeply true.  I look back over the year we did life with our friends the Stowells, and I don’t have enough fingers to count the gifts that their friendships provided to each member of our family. It was rich, to say the least.  And while the tears were hard and the gap they leave is large, the relationship proved every bit worth the goodbye.

 And while maybe I would prefer community that has deep roots like the oak tree, maybe the community I’m building is more that of an Aspen– more shallow and quick growing, perhaps, but strong nonetheless because of it’s connection with so, so many other trees,

spread out as they may be.


Related. New Girl  | 8 Reasons Not to Become a Missionary | Injustice of Skype


Have you said any hard goodbyes lately? And if you’ve said a lot of them, do you struggle with a tendency to not invest in relationships with people because of the past, or because they might not be around for very long?


  • arms wide open

    Wow. I can relate my friend. Your words here are perfection.

    • lauraparkerblog

       Oh, thanks, Grace!  I know YOU KNOW.  Loved your recent adorable pics on instagram, too, btw!!

  • Wendy

    Wow. As I prepare to head to Nicaragua for an unknown length of time, complete with tons of our own goodbyes, I so needed to hear this. Thank you! The relationship IS worth the goodbye!

    • lauraparkerblog

       Wendy– all the best as you head out!  I know it is HARD to say goodbye . . . . and harder, too, in many ways for the ones you are saying goodbye to.  Prayers for you guys today from here. When do ya’ll leave? 

  • Justin Schneider

    Thanks, Laura.  We definitely appreciate this.  Angela says that reading your blog is making us better bloggers.  I think this will also make us better at goodbyes.  But I still hate them.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Thanks, dude.

  • Tay

    Wow I can so relate, when I was younger we moved every year. New home, new school, new friends it sucked. I use to start every year telling my classmates that we won’t be friends for long because I’ll be moving within the year. It really hindered me not wanting to make close friends , or just trying to keep the communication going. Now that I’m a little older I don’t think so much about myself and my wants regarding never ending friendships, but I let God use me. Like now I have built some really good friendships with people, and I know they will be soon graduating going their own ways but I’m thankful for the bond we have now , and that I didn’t let fear hinder me.

    • lauraparkerblog

      That’s neat that you haven’t let fear rule the day, but I do think that is a natural worry I have for my own kids– that they will start to pull away from people naturally instead of really diving in to relationships. Thanks for sharing this story and the ways God has redeemed this in your own life.

  • Jasmine Tell

    I really think this is why my husband, himself an MK, really struggles to form friendships. Maybe he’s just a typical guy, but I feel he sees friendships as fleeting, and not worth investing in. I’m not sure how to combat that for our children, but hope God gives me the wisdom! Growing up, my parents fostered, and it was always really hard when the kids left. After a particularly painful goodbye to one of my foster brothers, I really realized that even though it was so painful, Shakespeare had it right, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.”
    Thanks for this! 

    • lauraparkerblog

      Jasmine, fostering is a great, hard consistent source of goodbyes. Absolutely. I didn’t even think about this when I wrote this, but oh, how this applies. I think of my friends who foster and I can totally see how this applies.

      love from this side of town, friend,

  • pastordt

    What a beautiful reflection on the bittersweet nature of relationships in Christian community. Yours is doubly difficult because of the cross cultural nature of your work and life, but it happens everywhere I’ve ever been – from Zambia to Pasadena to Santa Barbara. You just get entwined with someone – and they move away. Your hearts begin to connect at a deep level and – you’re starting over again. It’s especially rough on children. But if you can teach them the beautiful truth of your friend’s words now, it may help them to move through these transitions more easily. They should not be pain-free – because this stuff hurts! But hopefully, your sweet son will learn the truth of, “the relationship is worth the good-bye.” He may not believe it right now, but he will.

    • lauraparkerblog

      This is true, I think, esp in our current culture where people are moving all. the. time. No longer do people work and stay in the same hometown anymore so I guess the goodbyes are really and truly a part of the fabric of alllll of our lives.

      A difficult one at that. Maybe we should all just start saying, “see you later” instead.

  • Michelle

    As an mk, I would say goodbye’s are one of the hardest things.  I remember going back to the US for my 8th grade year.  We were only going to be there for 6 months and I remember thinking, “I won’t get close to anyone b/c we are leaving again soon”…and it was a miserable time.  However through the pain, I began to realize the truth of what you’ve written, “The relationship is worth the goodbye”- love that!  I went to PNG for student teaching…some of the best 3 months of my life b/c we were very involved in community and didn’t hold back.  I remember my friend singing at the school chapel as we prepared to leave, “Will you love Jesus more” (…and I was reminded once again that when you love deep, the hurt can also go deep, but it is WORTH it (even for a few months)!  …and if I can keep the perspective that it isn’t just about me anyway…that if others love Jesus more b/c of the love I showed them, then it was more than worth it!   As I watch my kids grow up as mks I sometimes struggle with the “few” choices of friendship they have and how they’ve already had more than their share of hard goodbyes (we’re getting ready to say goodbye to a couple who have “adopted” our kids as their grandkids…this ones going to be TOUGH!)…but I have to remember all the treasures/great world perspective they’re getting…and that through it all, they and others can come out of it loving Jesus more.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Michelle, this piece of your comment I totally get and relate to with my own kids:

      As I watch my kids grow up as mks I sometimes struggle with the “few” choices of friendship they have and how they’ve already had more than their share of hard goodbyes (we’re getting ready to say goodbye to a couple who have “adopted” our kids as their grandkids…this ones going to be TOUGH!)…but I have to remember all the treasures/great world perspective they’re getting…and that through it all, they and others can come out of it loving Jesus more.

      Praying for these goodbyes for your fam and kids coming up . . .

  • Chris Lautsbaugh

    Laura, you nailed it yet again. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it is easy to get friendship fatigue. In my organization, we often work with new people every 3-9months. You do get very jaded to meeting and greeting, making friends, and saying goodbye. While  I have learned that my deepest friendships will be limited to a few around the globe (thank God for technology), you do guard your heart a bit with the masses. Guard yes, but still engage. If we are not engaging in people, why are we in missions? As I look back on 20 years, most of my deepest friendship come from people that I could have easily chosen to not get to know. I would be poorer for it.

    God also has a way of reconnecting people. Even when I see those I am closest to every few years, we pick up right where we left off. Next month, I will see good friends for the first time after 12 years. I can’t wait!I suppose friendship, like love, is a choice. We choose to engage. We choose to be hurt. We choose to feel pain. In doing so, we become richer.  Worthwhile things often carry a price tag.

    • lauraparkerblog

      “I suppose friendship is a choice.”

      Yes, Chris, this is a good reminder. I think for those of us working with short termers, esp, b/c you KNOW that they are leaving about as quickly as they arrive, and so I can imagine the tendency to just go on auto pilot instead of really engage. I love that reminder that love and friendship is a choice we have to keep making.

  • Lana

    Ah, man, totally get you, and your son. I don’t have any friends near my age here other than a couple Thais (who are pretty good friends now; ones that I would cry to leave), and it took me two years to form that friendship because I had to learn their language and culture first.  (I can’t believe it took me two years to wake up and realize that Thais want me to bring them cookies and snacks). but I would have never guessed that about you from only seeing you a distance because you so outgoing and lead the kids devotion at coop and do all the things that I am too timid today.

    • lauraparkerblog

      I think relationships, the good ones that are deep, are just hard — for anyone.

      I love that you are bringing cookies to Thais. I like that image of you. :) Hang in there . . .

  • Amy @ themessymiddle

    When you said you lived in Chiang Mai, I wondered if you knew Matt and Debbie and then to see their pictures here! We’ll miss them too, here in China.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Aren’t we lucky to have know Matt and Deb?! So cool that you know them! Were you in Chiang Mai for conference? Next year, we’ll have to meet in real life! :)

  • Valerie

    This is so tough! My husband and I are serving in Germany. Just in a few short weeks we will be saying goodbye to several good friends!! I was told once to pray for God to soften my heart….life as a missionary is not easy! Thank you for your post. God bless!

    • lauraparkerblog

      Valerie, this is a prayer worth repeating,
      God soften MY heart.

      Good advice for sure, on so many levels– disappointments, relationships, struggles, etc. Good word, for sure.

  • Amy Warner

    Laura, while you don’t know me, I have been reading your blog for the past several weeks.  I have loved reading it because so much of what you are experiencing have been similar what me and my husband have been experiencing.  We moved to Indonesia in July 2010 so we are coming close to our 2 yr anniversary.  I had to shake my head though when I read this post because we just said goodbye to our best friends here two weeks ago.  This was exactly what I needed to be reminded of–The relationship is always worth the goodbye.  I have honestly been feeling like, why bother, the next person is just going to leave to and this helped remind me why I should “bother”.  So thank you for your honesty.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Oh, Amy– I feel for you. Praying that you would enjoy these last few weeks with your friends! Thanks for your encouraging words.

  • John Lambert

    Doing it now and it sucks! 

    But I am a little better at it than some because of my days in the military.  Still never easy.

    Hope to get to meet you guys soon.  It looks like after May 21st.  We are going away for a break to the South!  

    Missionary advice: don’t feel guilty for taking breaks.  I have been the worst and now I am feeling it.  

    • lauraparkerblog

      John, Ugh. Praying for you guys now.

      Give us a call when ya’ll get back.

      And, great advice about taking breaks. SOOO important. To do and NOT feel guilty about.

  • mariana

    This is great ! Can really relate to the not really wanting to have to go through making friends with folk who are only going to be around a short while. I need to constantly remind myself to be more childlike. Kids just connect and play and enjoy eachother and then goodbye. They enjoy the moment to the full and live in it ! We dont know how long any of us are going to be around – even on earth and as morbid as that sounds I do think we need to live and think more in the here and now and enjoy it and enjoy each person and not think too much or plan too much – esp where friendships are concerned.  Lets face it – we are all short termers on planet earth ! =)

  • Tanja V

    What you write about is so true in my life too. I’ve been in missions since I finished high school and here have been countless goodbyes since then. But thank God for Shakespeare and the quote somebody else mentioned… It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. This is so true and has helped me stay willing to invest in new people. Although i do admit not wih the same sincerity in short-timers as in long-termers.

    In our case, we’re a bicultural couple serving in a third nation in which none of the other missionaries come from cultures similar to ours. That makes our quest for true deep relationships where we can really understand and connect with each other. But the ones we’ve found show that it is not impossible to connect cross-culturally, even though we come from nations as different as Norway and Brazil.

    • lauraparkerblog

       wow– sounds like you could really write the book on cross cultural dynamics!  thanks for stopping in and for the encouragement to press in, despite cultural differences. a good reminder, for sure.

  • Tbuttery5

    Ahhhh, good one again.
    “The relationship is worth the goodbye.”  Yes.  Felt that many times during our life in the military.  Not so much now that we are “settled” here; think maybe we don’t bond as closely bc we are falsely lulled into thinking we have another time together . . . next week or month.  
    The families with whom we’ve shared the most tortuous goodbyes are the ones with whom we’ve stayed in touch through our kids’ teenage and college year, gone to the weddings across the country, cried on the phone for the miscarriage or mom / dad’s passing or just laughed until our bellies hurt through those phone lines.
    So, I’ll be praying for all of us to have MORE of those relationships that tear us apart at the leaving.  That we will leave is a given, when is a guess, but how is more of our making.
    Hugs from here.

    • lauraparkerblog

       ohhhh . . .  i loved that last line . . .

  • Mariana

    Sorry that should read little children. ..! Toddlers.
    Other thought I had was that Jesus was in effect a short termer. A three-year stint and i bet folk were happy to have made friends with him after his impressive start to his mission at that wedding. Way to make friends quickly,
    For me I think it’s… As painful as goodbyes are I have never regretted making friends and the pain is an indication of something real that will always be there.
    This is a great blog.. I just been snooping and going to pass it on to others. I hate thought that i could become a bitter or proud long termer who thinks she knows it all and despises the newbies. Yuck! … And thank you…. Its a wake up call. Keep at it .. Its very real and very relevant .

  • richelle

    i tell my kids… every heart-breaking goodbye usually leads to some amazing, God-orchestrated and wonderful hellos… somehow, somewhere, sometime…

    sometimes that feels really, really shallow, but 15 years into this misso life, we find it true and my soon to be graduating big boy says that it really is…

    i’ve got a goodbye coming up in just a few short weeks as our dearest family friends head home, for good… we don’t live in the same part of the States… I don’t know what the future will look like for our friendship (I know it will still be there, but it won’t be the SAME) and I cry as I type this.

    how do i say goodbye to 12 years of love, friendship, support, challenge – family when family wasn’t here… tears, prayers, laughs, watching our kids grow up together and this amazing community we’ve built. i don’t know, but i know it is worth it.

    the tendency may be not to invest, to hold back — i’m so glad Jesus didn’t do that. we’ll have that opportunity for oak tree roots in heaven – why not appreciate and live to the fullest our aspen tree season?

    • lauraparkerblog

      What rich, rich words. My favorites?

      “the tendency may be not to invest, to hold back — i’m so glad Jesus didn’t do that. we’ll have that opportunity for oak tree roots in heaven – why not appreciate and live to the fullest our aspen tree season? ”

      Oh, yes, my friend. Praying for your upcoming goodbyes . . . .

  • Jamie Jo

    My heart cries for you.  This is a very sad thing indeed.  Thanks for a very thought-provoking post.

    • lauraparkerblog

      Oh, thanks, Jamie. Appreciate your prayers . . .

  • Neeley Davie

    i love love the relationship is worth the goodbye, I will keep that for a while to come….saying goodbye to your family is tough…..praying for both families!!

  • Molly Huggins

    Oh …. very much like the military. (Army wife).  Our hard goodbyes …. between spouses …. friends …. I think you are right. We should be friends. 

  • kim

    I was just talking about this with a friend tonight. One of our friends says goodbyes get easier and easier but I feel like it gets harder and harder the longer I’m in missions. I never want to be the bitter missionary and I’ve made it a point not to be that way and to encourage the people I work with to keep an open heart too when new people come but I’m starting to feel it cause my best friends are leaving this weekend and the thought of getting to know the new staff that come in next week makes me cringe a little bit. Haha, I just keep saying, “don’t take your crap out on other people. love them and welcome them.” cause otherwise I think I might be a bit of a psycho for the first few days. :) Saying goodbye is easier when it’s the people you’re not as close to that leave but when it’s your best friends, it stings a little more so… yeah. I feel your pain. I just keep saying, “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later” to try and convince myself that it’ll be okay. :) 

  • Lamcgown

    We are moving to Chiang Mai in a couple of months and we just said goodbye to all of our friends, church, home of 15 years.  We are currently on the road support raising and saying our last goodbyes.  It is TOUGH!  As I look back, I am thankful for the pain.  Because it means that the relationships I had were deep and MATTERED!  If they didn’t matter, it wouldn’t be soooooo incredibly hard!

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