Pastoral ministry can be lonely. Some pastors may be in a church for 20+ years, but the average tenure of an American pastor is about 6 years.

I try not to think about the fact that no matter my intentions, and no matter how close I wish to be with my church people, they have seen pastors come and go. They may love me now, but our relationship will likely only last a short time beyond my tenure.

When a pastor leaves, he needs not interfere with his departing church so the incoming pastor can take on the mantle of ministry without the shadow of his predecessor. For a pastor, relationships with church members are usually temporary things.

That’s why life-giving relationships for pastors outside the church is so important.

As someone who struggles with emotional dependency, I confess having such relationships and losing them feels unbearable. I do not want to be needy toward others. I want to be seen, known, loved, and pursued. And not because I had to ask for it.

I flit back and forth between feeling like an Enneagram 2 or 6. I am loyal to a fault, and I often look to others for affirmation to build up my feeling of self-worth. This means that I sometimes hold on to friendships longer than I should, longer than what is healthy for me.

One of my greatest supports I’ve ever had as a pastor was my friend, Brett. He was my best friend and a fellow pastor.

However, a point came in our relationship when I realized just how dependent I was on him and just how one-sided our friendship was. For my own well-being, I needed to step away from the relationship.

What follows is the lament and reflection I wrote in saying “goodbye” to our friendship.

The Last Goodbye to My Best Friend

It has been six months since I said goodbye to the man I called my brother, my best friend. He was one of the first people I told about my same-sex attraction. We were in each other’s weddings. We comforted each other when relatives passed away. We laughed and cried with each other and forgot whose jokes belong to whom.

What was the hardest part about saying goodbye? I don’t know if he even noticed I had done it.

He didn’t die. He lives eight hours away from me. He is quite well. I could pick up the phone and call him right now.

But for my own health, I cannot. Because I am the one who always has to call. And too often when I have called, the calls go unanswered; the messages, un-returned.

He used to prioritize time for us to talk.

We could catch up on life and ministry, and how we could pray for each other, and we said we’d try and talk every two weeks. One of his prayers (and one I also desired for myself) was that God would give him other local pastors with whom to partner, friends outside his church, and godly men in his church to walk alongside him.

Eventually, God answered our prayers for him, and my texts and calls began to go unanswered.

When I last saw him, I told him about some current pains in my life. That my wife and I were going through a time of uncertainty and deep pain.

I thought he would be there for me. I hoped he’d call me later. But the days stretched into weeks. And the weeks into months.

I had a good friend tell me that if only one person is doing all the reaching in a great friendship, then only one person has a great friend.

Six months ago, I got to hug him one last time as the friend I knew. I told him I loved him, and I said goodbye. I let go of the friendship we had.

I acknowledged the reality of what is, rather than clinging to what was.

And why did I let go? Because it was damaging me to expect more from him — and also unfair to him, particularly since he wasn’t doing anything out of malice. He was doing it out of ignorance.

And that’s the sad part. It had been six months. And I wonder, in moments like this, where I want nothing more than to try again . . . to pick up the phone and call again . . . has he even noticed my absence?

Because unless I heal, and unless something changes, until he reaches out to me, I have given him my last goodbye.

One reason I’m thankful for Your Other Brothers is that I can build community with people who “get it.” I was able to say goodbye to Brett, in part, because of the brothers in this community who supported me in developing healthier emotional connections.

I have some amazing friendships in this wonderful online community. And when I move to a new church someday, I won’t have to say goodbye to my other brothers.

Have you walked away from a friendship for your own health? What do you do to keep yourself from emotional dependency? How do you build community that lasts?

  • I can’t believe the timing of this post ! I come home tonight depressed about this very issue,turn on the computer , go strait to YOB looking for an answer and there it is instantly! Well it wasn’t an answer but a kick in the butt affirmation of what I knew I needed to do for months! Thank you Ben

    • You are welcome Chris. I feel like a lot os us have friends who are not as invested in the friendship as we are. This is also a thing for OSA people as well, but it seems like we get more than our fair share of relationship disconnect.This is the only friendship I felt like I needed to step back completely , but there have been others where I have had to modify my expectations.
      If you feel like you also need to step back from a friendship… I pray you find strength and healing. I can tell you, it wasn’t easy, and it hurt. I think it was needed. I did not want to make it super obvious. I did not unfriend him on FB. But I did unfollow him and his wife so I would not see them in my news feed all the time.
      I think one thing that helped immensely was that I had people who knew I had done it check in with me and ask how I was feeling.

  • Such goodbyes are always unimaginably difficult. I am thankful you had the strength to do it before it was forced to happen. Praying for your continued healing in this, brother. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thanks Dean. I feel like the healing is happening. I don’t feel as hurt as I did when I wrote this ( the 6 month mark was back in January) . But there’s still some pain there at times. I’m very thankful it’s not anger. I will see a Facebook memory pop up, or realize I’ve said something that I got from him, and I’ll feel a pang for what was.

  • Such a relatable story. I’ve had to consciously pull back and readjust my energies for many-a-friend over the years because of that relational imbalance and my own emotional health. You’re not alone in that lingering “what if,” Ben. I feel it too.

      • I’ve seen it go both ways. When I’m no longer unhealthily invested in a relationship, though, it’s not as a big of an issue if the relationship does fade away. I’m learning to see most friendships as seasonal. Makes the ones that stick around all the more special.

        • That makes sense. My grandpa once told me that I would be blessed if I could count on one full hand the number of true friends I had. I thought he was crazy at the time. I felt like I had lots of friends. He told me “No Ben, you have many acquaintances, and they will come and go from your life. You value them too much.”
          I find his words to be more and more true. For a while, this made me consider pulling back emotionally from connecting with others to keep myself from that hurt. But then I realized it is okay to engage and feel deeply, and to have to someday say goodbye. One of my professors called it “keeping people in an open hand before God.” If God chooses to take them out of my life, it may still hurt, but not as much as if I were clinging to them with a white-knuckle grip and God had to pry my fingers open.
          I’m learning to appreciate however long I do have, while still hoping that I do have those lifelong friends. As you said, the ones that do stick around are that much more special.

  • One of the great things about this group is being able to speak our truths without fear. It’s not how I grew up & it’s easier to do it online than in person. Insisting on respect & believing that I’m worthy of loving relationships is still a work in progress but I’m on the way. It sounds like you’re on the way too. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    • Thanks Richard. I am hoping to have a conversation with Brett someday about what the imbalance in our friendship cost me. That will likely be part of the healing that I need for believing I am “worthy of loving relationships.”

  • Hey Ben, you’ve got one the toughest jobs man. You minister maybe for years to someone and give yourself to them, and sometimes you never see the fruit of that before they move on. In my job I work on projects that get finished and ya get the reward of seeing it and you move on. Having said that, you work with souls, and I can only imagine how rewarding that is when you’ve helped someone. That doesn’t have much to do with your post, just wanna give you props for doing what you do.
    You’re post is tough to read Ben, the emotional stuff lingers long after the people are gone, doesn’t it? I wish I had some good words that made sense in these kinda situations, but I don’t. I don’t understand emotional attachment/dependency stuff, I never see it coming, just that I’m in it. In the last year or so I’ve been dealing with some painful history, and there was 2 guys, not best friends going way back, just really good guys who were friends wanting to help me thru. One was a straight pastor who was the 1st guy I told about my ssa, the other was actually a YOB guy. Somewhere in sharing, I got in this bad place where hearing from them was everything and it screwed with me and I kinda lost my internal bearings and it was like being in a whirlpool of quicksand. Sharing even everyday stuff became work just trying to find a level place. These 2 guys were the real deal and wanted to keep walking with me, but I was becoming like the worst guy that no one needs to know. Even telling them, I wasn’t dealing with it good enough and the only way forward seemed to be moving on, so I gave them what props I could and I did. At the time I thought I was doing them a solid when truth is, I just wasn’t handling things good enough. These 2 guys, they did nothing wrong. Dealing with the history, I think I just wanted to feel things were gonna be ok but that should’ve never been on them. But there were good times sharing good stuff both ways, hopefully they got good from the good times.
    Even now, I don’t get it, I have no idea how I got there or what to do to not be there again. I don’t wanna ever be that to another guy again. And if this post is sounding all kinds of screwed up, well yeah, it kinda is, I just don’t have better words. I learned a couple things tho. Emotions aren’t truth. I guess that’s kinda obvious saying it, but truth is harder to find when emotions get torqued up. The other is that whole whirlpool of emotions deal is what Christ gets you out of, that being in him there’s no whirlpool.
    Hey Ben, part of me hopes somewhere down the road you and Brett can be friends again, maybe different but stronger and better. The good we work in each other’s lives never really gets lost, it becomes part of us.

    • Thank you for sharing.
      Since originally writing this, Brett has resumed contact with me. I Got excited at first, even while trying to keep my expectations low. I still do most of the reaching out. But I feel like my expectations are more realistic, even in the middle of disappointment.
      I actually tried to talk to him about this post before it went live, because I want to talk it through with him… but he didn’t call back. 😛

      • That’s awesome y’all are talking again. Who knows what’s still possible to come from your history, living things grow. Like you said, you’re in the reality of what is, not what was. Marshall’s written a lotta posts I love. He looks at his relationships with other guys as being there for them as much as they let him, a love that serves others. That seems really healthy for brothers and friends.

        • I talked to him today. And I told him about this blog post. It was a very redemptive conversation. He was very remorseful that he hurt me. He acknowledged that he did wrong by always making me the one to reach out, and recognized that I was a needed pillar in his life that he should not have taken for granted. I will keep him in an open palm, but I feel like we had a coming back together in our hearts.

    • I can totally relate. Emotional dependency comes out of no where for me!
      It seems to me like I don’t recognize it until it’s already taken root, because when I do recognize it, it’s because of my behavior with that individual.
      I think being more self-aware can help with preventing emotional dependency.

      • I hear ya Landon. Hopefully it’s infrequent for you too. But there’s gotta be a better way going forward. Life’s too short and the people God brings into our lives who care and that we care about are too few to be lost to our inability to handle things. Maybe it’s greater self-awareness like you said, with all that stirred up emotion I sure can lose my bearing. I also pray God heals whatever that lack and hunger is coming from.

        • My comment I left yesterday missed the mark. There’s healing of the soul damaged by sin, but the spirit alive in Christ need only be filled not healed. One of the promises Jesus made is that we’ll know his life to the full when we lose for real our old self that screws so much with our soul. Most times the answer I’m looking for is the one Jesus already gave, taking up my own cross, and the battle is whether to let go of the old completely and put on the new and go on, or continue to resist who God’s love in Christ is calling me to be.

          • You bring up two really great points about self awareness and the redemption we have in Jesus!
            I do find myself operating in routine and can become so task oriented that I lack the self-awareness of whats going on inside my mind and emotions.
            I love the cross and am so thankful for Jesus! I think anyone SSA or OSA can experience emotional dependency, I think we can easily make an idol of people and long for them more than we long for Jesus, in these moments conviction sets in and I run to the arms of Jesus!
            I hope you are well Bluzhawk!

          • Hey, if you find the key to figuring out what’s going on with mind and feelings in emotional dependency, pass it along 🙂 Fwiw, your comments are written with conviction and insight, I enjoy reading what you have to say.
            The “more than we long for Jesus” sure is a good measure of where we are. When the answer in my life to that is nothing, I’m doing really well.

  • Hey Ben! Like Chris, the timing of this for me is more than interesting. I was out taking a young friend on an errand, and when I dropped him off at work, I had about 15 minutes to myself in the car. I was thinking about a very similar relationship and praying for direction. Then I came home and read your article after printing off some directions for Tuolumne Meadow. Your post evokes strong emotions, and I pray that your healing continues and goes deeper. I certainly can relate to all the disappointment and sadness.

    • I am glad this resonated with you John. I would say that walking away isn’t something to do lightly. I needed to. I believe that. I am receiving that friendship back again in a healthier way. I also had good support around me when I did so.

  • Hi Ben,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! This was so relatable, I felt like I was reading something I wrote In my journal. In the same way, my best friend Andrew and I were close. We’ve been best friends since 5th grade. Up until college we were inseparable. In many ways our friendship was symbiotic, we each made time for one another. Once we got to college all that changed, he started making new friends and he started dating his first serious girlfriend. Looking back, I know I was emotionally dependent on this guy and I think it made watching the friendship die so darn painful.
    I experienced closure the same way you did. Finding closure in knowing that it was okay for this friendship to die, and ultimately it was best for me.
    We text every so often. Meet up occasionally when we are in the same city, but things are totally different. He’s getting married in a few months and he’s asked me to be a groomsmen! It feels strange because in many ways that friendship is so far removed from where we were (10 years ago.) I am looking forward to standing by him on his wedding day, but also still trying to figure out where we stand.
    Should we remain “old friends” or try and start our friendship again!?
    Thanks for posting. I’m looking forward to reading more about your story.
    Best,
    Landon
    PS. What you said about pastors needing hold on to friendships outside of the church really hit home. My friend Andrew is a pastor and I’m not.

    • Landon,
      Thanks for writing. I also have a high school friend (Scott) who was one of my closest friends. I loved with his family for 3 months. We ended up at the same college, and our friendship continues. However, one of the reasons I connected so strongly with Brett was the changing nature of the friendship with Scott. I was partially filling a hole Scott left. He got engaged, moved off campus, etc. We were still friends, but the face to face nature changed. I think we’ve found a good rhythm of long distance friendship that Brett and I lost.
      Andrew probably needs you more than he realizes. Pastors are notoriously bad at self care, and we need people to pull us out of running ourselves into the ground.
      Scott and I got closer again after he found a rhythm in life and marriage. He missed me. Maybe Andrew will miss you more as time goes on, and the level of engagement will hopefully grow. I pray it is so for you.

      • Hi Ben,
        Thanks for checking in man!
        We recently had Andrew’s bachelor weekend! It was strange, like a friendship frozen in time. All we have to relate to one another is what was…. instead of what is. Thankfully I didn’t become jealous or compare myself or become annoyed by the guys he has in life now! I’m thankful he’s got great guy friends in his life! I’ve been more intentional about texting him, but he seems pretty uninterested in having much conversation, so I am leaving it there for now. Texting him when the Spirit leads…or when I happen to think of something he’d find funny!
        I’ve read through some of the comments and it seems like the two of you have reconnected, I’m so happy to hear that!
        Thanks,
        Landon

  • if only one person is doing all the reaching in a great friendship, then only one person has a great friend

    Ugh this punched me in the gut! I had an interesting conversation with one of my straight guy friends the other week where he recognized that I was pretty much always the one reaching out. I think he felt guilty, but he also said something along the lines of, “I enjoy hanging out with you, and I know I need to connect with people more outside of my wife and my work; it’s just that reaching out is something that I’m not very disciplined about. Kind of like going to the gym. I know it’s good for me and I should be doing it, I just struggle with the discipline. So please keep reaching out!” On the one hand I can certainly relate to struggling with discipline. On the other hand I wonder how robust our friendship actually is, if the balance never improves and he never finds it more emotionally compelling than, say, the gym.
    [I edited out a GIF because once I posted it, it turned out to be way larger than I thought; way too big! But it was a hand reaching out of a computer screen and punching the user.]

    • It may sound odd to think about “reaching out” in the same way as “working out,” but I totally get it. It’s a muscle and a practice that needs to be exercised, again and again. I’ve felt that so hard over these last couple years especially.

    • I guess I find it somewhat inconceivable that anyone would be bad at reaching out and connecting with others. Its almost like someone saying they’re trying to be better at breathing. But I guess he just sort of comes from the cultural mindset that guys reaching out to other guy friends isn’t important.

  • if only one person is doing all the reaching in a great friendship, then only one person has a great friend

    Ugh this punched me in the gut! I had an interesting conversation with one of my straight guy friends the other week where he recognized that I was pretty much always the one reaching out. I think he felt guilty, but he also said something along the lines of, “I enjoy hanging out with you, and I know I need to connect with people more outside of my wife and my work; it’s just that reaching out is something that I’m not very disciplined about. Kind of like going to the gym. I know it’s good for me and I should be doing it, I just struggle with the discipline. So please keep reaching out!” On the one hand I can certainly relate to struggling with discipline. On the other hand I wonder how robust our friendship actually is, if the balance never improves and he never finds it more emotionally compelling than, say, the gym.
    [I edited out a GIF because once I posted it, it turned out to be way larger than I thought; way too big! But it was a hand reaching out of a computer screen and punching the user.]

  • “I acknowledged the reality of what is, rather than clinging to what was.”
    A categorical insight. A great post, Ben…

  • This resonates so much with me. I’ve had some friendships over the years that have been all one-sided. When you’re the one always doing the reaching out and never getting a response, you realize that it wasn’t really much of a friendship to begin with and have to eventually let it go. It’s never easy, but sometimes it’s what you have to do. I’ve also come to realize that I’m a people person, and not every one is like that. Some guys just don’t like to text or call in general, so I have to realize it has nothing to do with me. That’s what makes those friendships I have that I can call, message or text at any time even more valuable.

      • Would love to be able to have those who are going through the same thing as someone I can talk to about it all. But for now, I’ll take what I can get.

  • I can’t I say I ever ended a friendship for the sake of my own health. I can say I’ve had to learn a hard life lesson about relationships. That lesson being: relationships change. I have had relationships with teammates, fellow Christians, co-workers, family members, etc. There were no bridges that got burnt, but the relationships faded over time and based on circumstantial change. My life underwent changes and so our lives were no longer in sync. We grew apart while at the same time allowing new relationships to blossom. From what I gather about this lesson, I tend to remain always receptive to new people and acquaintances I meet in my life’s journey. I never know if a new best friend is right around the corner or simply a new acquaintance. It seems that I am valuing quantity over quality, but quality friendships need time to flourish. So I simply see where a relationship will go by giving it a wide berth. Always open to new friendships like the ones I manage to foster here at YOB.

    • That makes a lot of sense. I think the lesson I needed to learn was to let the friendship be what it would be, rather than cling to the pain of how it used to be. I can hold Brett in an open palm now, knowing that he is not an idol in my life anymore. That is what I allowed our friendship to become; it was an idol.
      We are the best friends we can be to each other when we make sure God is first and that we are pointing each other back to him. I needed to remember that.
      I am glad you found friendship with people in YOB. Those are some of my most lifegiving friendships as well.

  • In case it got buried in comments below, I wanted to give an update of sorts here. I talked to Brett today and we walked through the things in this blog post. It was a very redemptive conversation. He was very remorseful that he hurt me. He acknowledged that he did wrong by always making me be the one to reach out, and recognized that I was a needed pillar in his life that he should not have taken for granted. I will keep him in an open palm before God, but I feel like we had a coming back together in our hearts for each other.
    He ended the conversation with “I love you bro. I’ll talk to you soon.” And then we both started laughing. Soon… probably sooner than 6 months. 😉
    It was a good ending.

    • Thanks Ben for sharing your story and for the update. My heart goes out to pastors as I can appreciate some of the struggles and loneliness they feel.
      When I was growing up, the pastor of my church (he was there for over 42 years) never had married. He was engaged once, but she died before they could get married, and it “took the starch” out of him. For a long time, he could not greet anyone after church, the loss was so painful to him. He always struck me as a very, very lonely man.
      As I was reading this, I was reminded of someone. He was the pastor’s son in a church I attended. He was off to seminary, I believe, so I didn’t see him a lot, but I do remember his handsome, smiling face…so full of life and optimism. I recently went on-line and found out he had taken his life after a long struggle with depression. He had a family of his own and was pastor of a large church in California. To say I was shocked was an understatement…it completely blew me away.
      That’s why I would never give anyone a hard time…behind the smiling face can lurk a lot of pain and hurt. God bless you in your ministry.

  • Ben Rutkowski

    Call me Ben, or call me Beamer. I am in my early thirties, married, pastoring in the Midwest, and Jesus is my reason for living. I'm either an ENFJ or ENFP. My Enneagram is 2 or 6 depending on the day. I am a chameleon – being who I need to be to care for others. Most of my favorite activities center on being with people in any outdoors setting, whether hiking a mountain trail or simply lying in a hammock and drinking a beer.

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