The hardest part about moving away for seminary has been leaving my fantastic network of deep friends. I went from living with twelve other guys in a three bedroom house to living with two other guys in a four bedroom house, both of whom have full-time jobs and hobbies of their own. While I can’t say I’ve maintained my old friendships perfectly, these six practical steps have helped me leave my friends well. The first three are listed here, and the next three are in Part II.
1. Commute phone calls. My commute to school is twenty minutes both ways, as is my commute to and from church. What I’ve done with that time is call my friends on speaker phone every evening. I have a list of names that I cycle through. If someone doesn’t pick up, then I call the next one. After having painted the same picture of new life in a new state several times, I just decided to write it up and share it on Facebook. Since then, I’ve gotten to answer more specific questions from my friends and ask them what their lives look like now. Twenty minutes that would have gone toward listening to music or podcasts now goes towards maintaining friendships.
2. Loving what they love. Before I left home, at my going away party, I asked each of my friends to write the title of a poem, book, film, or album that they particularly treasure. If where our treasure is there our hearts will be, these pieces of art have my friends’ hearts. Memorize and treasure the poem along with them is a very practical way of holding my friends in my heart. Now, my phone calls can even be more meaningful. I can say: “Andrew, I finished reading Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam. What is that you love about it so much? What life experiences did it help you understand? How is that going to continue to influence your choices in the future? My favorite stanza was…” The alternative is either Netflix or picking new books or poems to read on my own, which only feels like extending my feelings of isolation.
3. Understanding awkward changes. I read an article a few weeks ago about how friendships change over time. We can’t relate to each other in the way that we used to. We won’t meet for lunch every other Thursday. We won’t lead a ministry together. I won’t be able to call them up when I’m having a difficult night and need a hand to hold. When you maintain friendships over distance, everything has to become intentional–nothing is routine. Often, that’s been awkward. Sitting at a lunch table with nothing to say is more comfortable than sitting on the phone with nothing to say. I’ve taken great comfort in being able to communicate with them: “Things are changing. I’m going to stick with you, but I’m not sure how that’s going to look or what that’s going to feel like.” I do know, though, that these friendships that are gifts from God are going to continue, however they end up looking.
4. Weigh old dreams realistically. In college, my friends and I talked a lot about things we wanted to set out and accomplish. The thing is, it’s going to be impossible to accomplish everything we talked about. I can’t start a business with Andrew and Alex, move to Connecticut with Sam, plant a church with Josh, start an alumni association with Karl, found a seminary with Ian, and live in Darrick’s basement in Virginia. Reflecting on that fact can really get me down. But on the other hand, it’s not impossible to accomplish some of those things. Maybe Josh and I can still plant a church after all, and maybe we can do it in Connecticut with Sam. Some of those old dreams are still possible, and it’s been a major blessing to get to still consider some of these things with my friends over long distance.
5. Prioritize travel. I’ve taped a sheet of paper above my desk at home with all of the friends I want to visit. I’ve slimmed my budget down so that I rarely eat out at restaurants and I prioritized cheap and free activities over ones that will cost money. I’ve also disciplined myself to stop buying books for pleasure reading. I’ll read them for free online, borrow them for friends, or stick to the books I already own. As a result, I’m freeing up a little bit of money each month that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and I’m putting it toward cheap flights to visit friends. I just got a very cheap airfare on the condition that I don’t bring and carry-on or checked luggage. I’ve simply request that my friends provide me with food, clothes, lodging, and free airport transportation. My point here is, by slimming your budget and asking for help, visiting friends is more possible than you may have thought.
6. Vigorous resurrection hope. Nothing has been more helpful to strengthening my hope in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come than the promise that I’ll be together with my friends and my God for eternity. I’ve used my sadness over their absence to help set my mind on things above and anticipate the return of Jesus. I’ve never talked about heaven as concretely as I have in the context of leaving loved ones.
If it’s strong friendship that is keeping you from following God’s call to seminary, I urge you to consider obeying Him with the aid of our certain hope and my practical tips.
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.