by Rabbi Dr. Michael Schiffman
I have been traveling in Eastern Europe doing humanitarian work with my co-worker, Irek over the last 20 years. In that time, we have done some really wonderful things in the course of our work.
Recently on a humanitarian trip, Irek confided in me that he was discouraged. He had some local people helping him, and they told him they wanted to step back from the work, and he was feeling abandoned and alone. I told him that he shouldn’t feel that way, and not hold it against the ones who left. Some people come along side us for the long haul, and others join us for a time. Both kinds of people are important, because the ones who are around for a short time, help us get to the next step. They are helpful for what we are doing now, but maybe God has other things in mind for them and for us. I reminded him that he and I are here for the long haul. God has given us to each other as co-workers. We have been working together for over two decades, and will probably work together for the rest of our lives. Others may just be here for a short time, and we should be appreciative for their service, and be happy for the work we can accomplish because of their help.
It occurred to me that this is also a good perspective for our congregation. I lead a small congregation in Southwest Florida. Every time someone comes to the congregation, its an encouragement, and every time someone leaves, its a discouragement. Its important to realize that a congregation is not a place as much as it is a journey. When you journey with others, you help and encourage one another. You support one another and keep each other company along the path. Some people will join us in our journey for a time, and others will be with us for the long haul. The short term people are there for many possible reasons; or they may just wish to help, and I am grateful for them. They help us along the way. When their time comes to move on, they go. I am grateful for the time they were with us, and for their helping us get to the next stage of our journey. Others will be with us for a considerable period of time, and share our vision. Their hearts are for our community, and they consider our congregation their long term home. We can depend on them, and lean on one another for support and strength. Whether someone sojourns among us for a short time, or puts down roots with us, we share our journey with them.
It helps to recognize that it is God who is active in the life of a congregation, and it is He and He alone who gives us people to move to the next step in our journey. We need to be grateful for those he sends our way, whether they are here for a short time or for the long term. In any case, He gives us who we need for when we need it. When people move on, it is part of life, and part of the journey. For at least a period of time, we shared our journey together.