Joy and Sorrow of Goodbyes
Periodically we must say goodbye to loved ones.
It is a matter of life that our time here is short. Whether it be geographical locations or our lives themselves, we are always on our way somewhere else.
For a time we journey alongside others. We grow to love our travelling companions as we fall in step with them. We help them through some obstacles and they share their supplies with us. We regale each other with stories and delight one another with traveling songs. Sometimes there is the shared trauma of being in the trenches together through tough times.
Sadly, eventually, we must part ways. Sometimes abruptly through unforeseen circumstances, but often we get a chance to say goodbye as God leads us to the same destination via a different road.
For us in Sale we get more practice at this than many other places, merely because of the local context. We have industries and employers whose staff are often coming and going. We have to acknowledge this, and the effect it has on church life; it is both to our advantage and disadvantage.
But regardless of whether you're here or in some other context, here's some thoughts on goodbyes, and in particular when Christian brothers & sisters are sent out.
The very word "goodbye" is a long lost descendant of the blessing "God be with you". It is a prayer-in-a-word, shrunk down by generations of abbreviation. But we can reclaim that sentiment; that our goodbyes are given in the hope and assurance that God goes with our loved ones.
The goodbyes between believers are filled with hope. It is not merely that we hope to see each other in the eternal kingdom, but that God might bless their coming and their going.
We know that there is someone who superintends all of our plans, so even as we get posting orders, get offered new positions or move to take care of sick family members, it is all under God's care and direction. Divine providence is at work through ordinary circumstances.
But, I reckon that this awareness of divine providence should not only be a consolation to us, but also a motivator. In our displacement we will find ourselves in another place, with new (or old) relationships to build, a new church family that needs our spiritual gifts, new places where the Gospel needs proclaiming.
We ought to be faithful disciple-makers wherever we are, and when we move somewhere else there is new opportunities presented to go out into the harvest under the Lord's guidance.
It is a growing opportunity too! Have you noticed how much you are challenged and shaped by new circumstances? Character is forged in the fire of difficulty.
So our joy of sending people out to new pastures is based on a hope that God would bless them, that God would bless others through them, and that God would be glorified!
"Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails." Pr 19:21.
It must be recognised that there is real sorrow in loved ones moving away. There is tangible loss of friendship and connection.
Yes, yes, we have phones and video calls at our fingertips... but, if the last couple years have taught us anything, it's that there is no substitute for conversation over a campfire, laughter and jibes over a dinner table, or a chorus of voices raised in worship of the true and living God. To lose people is to lose the invisible fibres of Christian community that we can't put our finger on, but feel so real to us.
Added to this is the spiritual loss. Thinking of the church like a body, when people are sent out it can feel like an amputation. Our abilities are reduced when we loose Christ's servants from our midst. There are holes in capability and caring and encouragement. Mentoring, equipping, advice, experience, wisdom, perspective, hospitality, love, respect and compassion are all torn away with the loss.
That others will benefit from their Christian fellowship is little consolation to those who have lost it.
So we mourn. We need not shy away from the tears that roll down our cheeks and the sadness that pulls at our hearts.
"Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief." Pr 14:13.
Owning our Goodbyes
Knowing that we will have to say goodbye, in my view it means we should treat the time we have as precious. We should not waste the opportunities that come our way to build each other up, encourage each other and equip each other.
Perhaps a good question to ask is: Knowing that my time amongst these brothers and sisters is limited, how would God expect me to use it?
How has God gifted and enabled you to build up His Church in the time that you have?
The scriptures very clearly tell us that we should have this perspective all the time anyway! We do not know how long our days will be, nor do we know when Christ will return!
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Heb 10:24–25.
I hope that we will never waste an opportunity. This doesn't mean that we must frantically fill every second with trite attempts at "redeeming the time", but it does mean that our attitude and intentionality behind the way we live as a Christian community will be affected. It will shape the choices we make as a family. It will affect how we spend our money and our time. It will inform what official ministries we run, or don't run.
As we expect to say "goodbye" again sooner or later, wouldn't it be great to to know that they go out built-up in Christ? That we have contributed to their life such that they are "spurred on toward love and good deeds"?
As we send out people saying "God be with you," we should send them out knowing that from their time spent among us they are better equipped to face whatever God has in store!