Finding the Courage to Leave

My list of what I currently hate: transition, moving, goodbyes, and quitting. There are other events I could add to the list, including finding a giant spider in my shower, but this is what is topping out the list at the moment.

“Will you be available to teach for the 2015-16 school year?” My gut knew what decision I needed to make. My mind took a little longer to admit it. My heart was dragged along kicking and screaming. I would like to say I have an ability to persevere. Sometimes this quality manifests itself as hardheaded stubbornness.

I knew sending in my notice saying I would not be returning the following year to teach was my next step. I would finish out my contract and was not abandoning the school mid-year. I knew in my head it shouldn’t be so agonizingly painful, but my heart was refusing to cooperate.

Choosing to not return to teach for the following school year meant transition. I will soon be saying goodbyes, again. I will be moving. I will be starting a new job with new people and new expectations. By leaving I was opening up my heart to pain, again. Living cross-culturally during my high school years and then going back overseas after college, these are not new experiences for me. I am faithfully building another “RAFT” to add to my fleet. This was going to be painful, but not impossible.

As I sat on my bed sobbing, I was beyond the point of words. I couldn’t figure out why this transition was so much harder than any other. So, I picked up a pen and the following list came out.



Does Not Meet Expectations.

Couldn’t cut it.

Abandoning my students.






I had come wanting to stay at the school long-term. I love my students and I knew many of them would see my leaving as abandonment. It has been a rough couple of years at the school, but when I made this decision no one else was leaving. Only I couldn’t cut it. I couldn’t live up to the expectations put on me or the expectations I put on myself. I had failed. I was ashamed. More tears followed, but now they were healing tears. God is not a god of shame, but of infinite compassion. I could hear God’s gentle voice saying, “You are not quitting, you are following me. I will give you the courage to leave.”

I had to recognize I am not God. I am not the solution for the school or for my students. If God is calling me to move on, He will also provide someone to take my place. For me to stay would be to say I know better than Him. My heart was starting to follow more willingly. It no longer had anything to do with what I was leaving behind or what pain it would bring. The reason I am leaving has nothing to do with who I am and everything to do with who God is.

When I look at the words I had written as I sat on my bed in tears, my list doesn’t even make sense anymore. Quitter, failure, and disappointing do not describe my decision to follow God’s plan for me. Leaving is not easy. My change in perspective has not kept me from hurtful words or actions, but daily God is giving me courage. He is giving me the courage not just to leave but to leave well. The courage to leave something good because He has something even better, Himself. Whether staying or leaving, He is the one I must choose.

He is giving me the courage to leave, and by doing so He has given me the courage to stay. By leaving, I am learning how to abide in Him and choose Him above all else.

When you think about leaving, what words come to your mind?


  1. Kay Bruner May 19, 2015

    Brave.  That’s the word that comes to my mind.  “What Lucy Saw”–you know that part in Prince Caspian, where only Lucy sees Aslan and doesn’t follow him, because she’s the only one who sees?  I think we all find ourselves in that kind of place, and we have to be brave enough to follow, even if we’re the only ones who see.  When we made that decision 8 years ago this summer, that decision to leave, it was one of the brave, shining moments of my life.  It’s lead to all kinds of things I never, ever could have imagined at the time–mostly, deeper and deeper into Love, just following wherever that goes.

    1. Emily Smith May 19, 2015


      It was reading As Soon as I Fell that first gave me the courage to even think about leaving. I was feeling like there could have been no way that God could be asking me to leave just because things were hard. There was a realization that maybe I could matter more to Him than any work that I did. The guilt still comes, but His love is greater. I’m learning more and more what it means to trust the love.

      1. Kay Bruner May 20, 2015

        I can’t even tell you how much it means to hear you say that.  Thank you, Emily.

  2. Tim Larkin May 19, 2015

    Emily is an excellent writer who has obviously given herself to think deeply about the circumstances she finds herself in. May I one day be as resolute and courageous!

    1. Emily Smith May 19, 2015

      Thank you. Thank you. This means more than you could know coming from someone who has known me for so long.

  3. Meagan May 19, 2015

    This post echoes what I am going through right now. Only 7 more days of teaching and about two weeks before I leave and I still struggle with what I am saying goodbye to. Those feelings of guilt, failure and abandoning people, they are the worst! I know leaving is the step of faith that God wants me to take, but it is still scary. All I can do is cling to Him, to pray and hope that His ongoing faithfulness will speak truth to my heart and carry me through this journey of goodbye.

    1. Emily Smith May 19, 2015

      I hear you. We have 18 days to go. I’ve felt a wider range of emotions on a daily basis than I normally do in a week. Sadness because I am leaving. Guilt. Fear of the future. Excitement for changes that are coming. Guilt due to getting excited about leaving. Joy that God has my future planned for me. Exhaustion from being busy and dealing with all of my emotions on top of the school year ending. Thankfully, God has been giving me this overwhelming peace. He has been faithful in the past and will continue to be faithful in the future. You are almost to the end, trust his strength to help you say goodbye well.

  4. Kate Motaung May 19, 2015

    Thank you for this post. It is beautifully written, and has put into words what I’ve been unable to articulate for myself. Your story is a gift; thank you for sharing it.


    1. Emily Smith May 19, 2015

      Thank you. As I’ve shared my story more and more this has been the overwhelming response. My words could articulate what others were feeling. Knowing God can use my words to encourage others even at times when I don’t feel brave gives me hope and strength to keep persevering.

      1. Kate Motaung May 19, 2015

        Someone once said to me, “Thank you for being faithful to write.” Those words impacted me, and I can say the same to you: Thank you for being faithful to write. Keep using your gifts. They are making a difference. All of the best to you in your upcoming transition.

  5. ErinMP May 19, 2015

    This is really meaningful for me as I am going through a similar transition. I felt bad leaving my students but I wasn’t in a healthy situation where I could thrive so, like you, I had to leave. Is there a blog where you talk about your experiences there or is it too personal? I was also reading your book, Ms. Brunner, when I made the decision. It really helped me too.

    1. Emily Smith May 19, 2015

      I truly thought I was the only one who felt guilt about leaving. Especially, when I thought about leaving my students. I’ve been thinking about starting to blog as a way to find my voice again and to process these last years, but right now it is still too personal. Hopefully, in the future I’ll be able to link up on The Grove and start to share  more of my story. As you continue through your transition, remember that you are not alone. Many of us are walking this road along side you.

      1. Meagan May 20, 2015

        Isn’t it great that we do not struggling alone. So encouraging that we care share our stories and support each other who understand this transition.

      2. laura r May 20, 2015

        …writing a blog to find my voice again…

        I’m right there with you. A year later and it’s still pretty personal.  I’ve slowly been able to share bits of my story and it’s been good.

    2. Kay Bruner May 20, 2015

      Thanks, Erin.  I’m so glad it helped!  That’s pretty much a dream come true for me!

  6. Monica F May 19, 2015

    Thanks for sharing Emily… praying your transition goes better than you could imagine and that you feel His loving presence ever so strongly as you say your goodbyes.

    1. Emily Smith May 20, 2015

      Thank you. He has been faithful in every transition I’ve made in my life so far. I have no reason to question during this transition. Prayer makes a huge difference in keeping my focus where it needs to be. Again, thank you.

  7. Sarah Hilkemann May 20, 2015

    Emily, thank you for sharing so beautifully and honestly. I’m not at a transition time yet, but the thought of leaving terrifies me because I don’t want to disappoint people…or myself…or God. Like somehow living overseas makes me a better person, and being in my passport country is less-than. It was freeing to read your post and realize that God’s plans are so much greater, and that it is all for His glory, whether I am staying or leaving.

    1. Monica F May 20, 2015

      Amen.  A good friend of ours who had to leave the field for medical reasons told us later that he felt like he ‘was less than’ when he returned to the States and got a ‘regular job’.  He said it felt like in some weird missiological sense, that he got ‘fired from Christian super-heroism’.  Once again it comes down to our identity, and what we believe about who we are… do we listen to those voices out there or to the One who leads and moves us?  That’s why I loved the heading on this post so much:  The reason I am leaving has nothing to do with who I am and everything to do with who God is.  Abiding in Him through the Leaving will always draw us to closer into that intimate knowledge of belonging to Him.

  8. Emily Smith May 20, 2015

    Disappointing people….isn’t that so often what it comes down to in the end? Unfortunately, the more you move around the more people you get chances to disappoint. Some because you are leaving. Others because  you are not returning “home.” Also unfortunate, I’m pretty sure that moving overseas has made me feel like a much worse person. All those things that could stay hidden at home…not so hidden now. I fully understand the feeling of overseas somehow being better though. The mind can be a funny thing.

    As long as God is having you stay, stay wholeheartedly. When it comes time to move on He will let you know. At that time, follow Him with equal abandon. Your future is secure. All you can do is rest in Him.

  9. Jennifer Ann May 20, 2015

    Emily, I am praying right now about leaving my current assignment as a teacher. I love this place, it’s become home to me… and I can’t help but feel so many of those things when I think about leaving. I feel like a disappointment. I feel like a quitter. I feel scared of losing everything I’ve learned when I go back home. I am afraid that I’m “taking the easy way out” if I go back to the States. I’ve been struggling because really, I don’t know how to decide if God is still calling me here. I want wisdom and I want to do His will. People keep telling me that this might just be up to me and my decision, but I don’t know if I can choose.

    1. Emily Smith May 20, 2015

      Jennifer, if only it were a clear and easy decision. This last year I knew that I was supposed to stay even though it was going to be hard. There were lessons to be learned and beautiful things to come from sticking it out. I have no question in my mind. Last year God wanted me to stay. This year it was time to leave.

      I think choice has a lot to do with it. Leaving or staying isn’t really the issue. Wholeheartedly following God into the next steps is the thing that matters. I am praying whether you stay or leave you will hear His voice directing you. Wherever you end up, may you be able to live fully alive and present there, resting in Him.

  10. Martha May 20, 2015

    We have had some experiences of leaving and sometimes coming back, and quite a few times of considering leaving.  I think it can be helpful to remember that your departing will create an opening for someone else, or at least change the dynamic in a way that provides different opportunities for others, and those people & the ones they minister to may be greatly blessed by that – while you’re being blessed in your new situation!  I hope this doesn’t sound cheesy.  But I remember having a really good conversation with a colleague who was also considering leaving the field, all of us for quite “legitimate” reasons (in our case, seemingly unstoppable malaria;  we eventually got it under control).  We agreed that we had to admit that, actually, we weren’t the only people on earth who could fulfill these roles, & that maybe God would do great things with someone else.  At the same time, He had a better place for us.  God’s plan is so huge and complex, and the intricate web of relationships & causalities is so exquisite and beyond our understanding – that we can be sure He has it perfectly balanced.  Sure, it’s not easy to put guilt and disappointment behind us, but it may take in some cases an extra measure of humility and drawing on His Spirit to rejoice for the open doors God has put before us and others too.

    1. Monica F May 20, 2015

      Wow, so beautifully said Martha.  I had to ‘chew’ on your words for awhile and let it sink in.  You touched my heart this morning.

    2. Deb September 6, 2016

      Yes, I also left my post of teaching overseas after 10 years of 14. Then the “grace” for being there just lifted off. I knew it was time to leave but I stayed one more year and that was the most difficult year I had spent overseas. It’s all by His grace when all is said and done. Sincerely, DH

  11. laura r May 20, 2015

    This post shares so much of what we went through last year as we made the decision to leave… It was SO VERY hard.  This year, we have bumbled along – living life in paradox – sometimes gracefully and sometimes like little ones throwing a fit in the grocery story.  You know, the one where there is one kid crying and all the other kids are looking at them thinking, “What on earth?”

    There is no doubt in my mind that were led to this next stage and I can find deep rest in that- it’s nice to live 3 blocks away from my mom, it’s refreshing to have a yard and experience the 4 seasons again, it’s been so good to see our kiddos settle into healthy relationships, yet, there are times of confusion- what are we to do? how do we live in this culture? why did it all go down that way?

    So thankful that we do not walk alone, in more ways than one- Jesus left one home to live in another and for this place where we can connect with each other and know that others know.

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