The gods of the godless nations are mere trinkets,made for quick sale in the markets:
Chiseled mouths that can’t talk, painted eyes that can’t see,
Carved ears that can’t hear— dead wood! cold metal!
Those who make and trust them become like them. Psalm 135:16-18 (MSG)
It was a somber moment. Neither one of us really knew how to say goodbye. I could tell that he was hurt by my choice to leave. Our families had spent several years living life together, side by side. We laughed together, cried together, and faced challenges together. He was a more than a friend. He was a mentor. He was someone that I admired, and looked up to. His presence helped me feel safe during some of the darkest hours of my life. In my eyes, he was one of the “greats.” I never imagined living life without him and his family. I felt indebted to him and was sad that life was bringing a chasm to the center of our friendship. I saw him make every attempt to sway me from pursuing my decided path. However, my mind was made up. I had a goal to cross the state line, finish my degree, and in 2 years I’d return to the reclaim the place that I had left. I had resolved that this was a temporary move, and I did my best to communicate this. However, the move was met with resistance. I had anticipated this and did not make much of it. I was confident that I was making the right move, and I was confident that our friendship was strong enough to weather the storms of different viewpoints. After all he was much more than a friend, he was my mentor and he was my hero.
Adjusting to life in a big city, when you identify as “small-town-folk,” is no easy feat. In a small town, making new connections is inevitable. We found the exact opposite to be true in the big city. We found ourselves somewhat isolated. We were outsiders and minorities. We stuck out like sore thumbs. However, I didn’t worry much about this. After all, my intention was to never make this city my home. As soon as I had my diploma in hand, I would return home where the people that I loved awaited me. After all they were awaiting my return, weren’t they?
Some of my greatest moments during the past several years had been with my friend and his family. We ate together. Had game nights together. We had prayed together fervently over our visions of the future. Surely, he wouldn’t forget about me. (He better not. I was coming back.) So, I did as any normal man, on the brink of a nervous break-down would down, I reached out to him….. constantly (insert sarcastic laugh here). I left voice messages, sent text messages, wrote emails. I reached out with encouraging verses, reports of my successes, and just simple messages that let him know that I missed him and our community back home. However, my text messages and emails were always answered with short responses that did not indicate interest in conversation. In fact, I only received one phone call back. It was a short call giving me instructions on how not to handle a situation regarding a couple that we both knew. The phone call was awkward, weird, and uncomfortable….. and once he hung up it was followed by silence. This silence was lasted for years.
You think I’d get the hint and move on. It’s obvious that my friend had. However, I wasn’t willing to give up so quickly. During the time that he served as my mentor he taught me many great principles. These principles were the foundation for many of my successes that I was experiencing. I resolved that if he knew of my success, and the impact that he had made on my life, perhaps he would grace me with his approval. Perhaps if I reached out to him in his struggles, and demonstrated empathy and concern, just maybe his stance would change. For heaven’s sake, I was counting on his friendship and approval. I was returning home in a year. Our families relied on each other, didn’t they? However, I never received the approval that I longed for. Once in a great big while, I’d receive an email or text that questioned my choices. My exodus across state-line transformed the encouraging voice of my mentor to a voice of discouragement. Sadly, I realized that what I considered to be home, was gone. I was forced to design a new trajectory, but I didn’t know what to do. I was living in a strange city with no place to go. It was scary and a lonely place to be. However, I would learn that God tends to meet with us, and work in us, while we journey through unpleasant valleys like this one.
The Golden Calf
I failed to successfully complete my 2-year plan. I didn’t end up returning as I had originally planned. Instead, I found myself literally, figuratively, and geographically stuck in a desert place…. It is there where God began to work in me. About 3 and a half years into my move, God began to show me that I tend to place people above him. He showed me that I have a tendency of creating redemption stories, where other people are the heroes, instead of Him. I realized that I tend to look for identity and self-worth in the approval of others. I recognized that, throughout my life, I have recreated the same scenario with many of my friends, pastors, mentors, you name it. Each of these scenarios did not end well. Like the Israelites, who built a golden-calf, and worshiped it in place of one true God, I found myself elevating people and expecting them to do for me what only God can do.
What I learned can be summed up in one sentence:
“Stop expecting people to fill the place in your heart that was designed for only God to fill.”
When you’ve made it a habit of elevating others, this is easier said than done. Nevertheless, I’ve learned that I am most satisfied in life when I give God His rightful place in my life. When I give God His rightful place in my life, I find myself recognizing that I am fully and completely loved, accepted, and cared for. This is acceptance is not dependent on anything that I have done or choose not to do. It is merely a gift from the God who holds no good thing from me. In addition, this realization frees me to love others without condition. I no longer feel the need to hold others accountable to give me approval or acceptance. Everything I need is found in Jesus. Everything else is just a perk.
Fast-forward to the present
Recently, I realized that some our long-time friends are no longer placing much of an effort to remain in contact with us. I must admit… this realization stung a bit. However, my response was so much different than it’s been in the past. First, I took a minute and thanked God for the gift of experiencing their friendship during an amazing season in life. Then I took a moment to bless them and ask God to surround them with His favor. Next, I thanked God for the people that He has currently placed in my life. I’ve acknowledged that they may only be part of my life for a season, and that’s ok. Because all I need is found in Jesus, and he’s in it with me for that long run.
John Eli Garay
John Eli has spent over 15 years mentoring and coaching individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, self-inflicted trauma. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”