Life’s Many Goodbyes

Recently, our family has to had to learn how to say “goodbye” to some people in our lives. My wife’s uncle died this month, at the way-too-young age of 66. And this week, we said goodbye to a nephew who had been living with us for the past six months.

Isn’t it interesting that we even use the word “goodbye” when someone leaves? What’s good about goodbye?

The answer, it seems, is in history, and the history of language. The use of the word “goodbye” goes back to the 16th century — and began as the phrase “God be with ye.” As the phrase was used, it got shortened, and over time “God be with ye” became “Goodbye.”

Which means: what is good about goodbye is not that we let someone go, but that we let them go with God. Goodbye is good in the sense that God is still God, and He is still with the person we love — even when we cannot be. So, when we say goodbye to someone until we see them next week or next year — we do so entrusting them to God’s care. And when we say a bigger goodbye — the biggest goodbye — that comes when death separates us from someone we love, we do so entrusting them to God’s eternal care.

This doesn’t mean we ever get good at saying goodbye. On an episode of the show “CSI: New York,” one of the cops befriends Ruben, a ten-year-old kid from his apartment building. They go do an activity together, and on the way home, the cop notices a thief escaping the scene of the crime. He tells Ruben to go straight home, and then he begins to chase the criminal. Tragically, Ruben gets caught up in the chaos, and is killed.

Two detectives who work with the cop wrestle with how to comfort their friend: “What do I say?” one of them asks. “I’m not good at this kind of thing.”

“Just tell him you’re not good at this kind of thing,” her friend tells her.

I don’t think we ever get good at saying goodbye. And the bigger the goodbye, the harder it is. But because of Jesus — because of Easter — because we have hope, goodbye is not the same as The End. For even in our goodbyes, even in our biggest goodbye, we have a promise — that God really is with us through all our goodbyes.

You see, because of Easter, we can say goodbye. We can say, “God be with ye,” because through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we come to experience God’s presence — the kind that no separation can end. Not even the separation of death.

The Berlin Wall & What Really Lasts

On August 13, 1961, a wall sprang up overnight. For nearly 30 years, it would be a symbolic and physical reality that separated the city of Berlin — and, in fact, the West and the East. The Berlin Wall felt imposing; in fact, was imposing. How could anyone, on either side of the wall, deny its reality? How strong and lasting must it have been to have 96 miles of concrete and steel that said: Keep out!

But it didn’t last. On a surprising night in November, 1989, a gate was opened at Bornholmer Street (itself a fascinating story), and as fast as it went up, it just as quickly came down. And the gate went from being an imposing reality to a relic and reminder.

The truth is, so much in life is like the Berlin Wall. It feels overwhelming, unmovable, permanent.

Sometimes it is the work of our hands. We work so hard on our careers, our families, our houses, our reputation, our legacy, that we sometimes grow to count on them. Look at what we have built; how can it fall?

But other times, what seems unstoppable is not what we do, but what happens to us: the finances that fail, the job that falls apart, the future plans that never materialize, the loved one who walks out, the health condition that bottoms out. Look at what is happening; how can I make it through this?

In both cases, we would be wise to remember the lesson of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes, what seems unshakable, in fact, shakes. Sometimes, what feels like it is foundational, doesn’t go all the way down to bedrock.

What we need, what we really need, is something that is really foundational, unshakable, bedrock. The kind of thing we can build our lives on, whatever comes. No. Matter. What.

I Corinthians 15 takes us to bedrock. It points us to what is certain, no matter how uncertain life is. And it is found in the person of Jesus — his death, burial, and resurrection. This is not only the foundation of what Christianity is all about, it is also the foundation of what life is all about. That when what I build falls apart, Jesus doesn’t. When life comes at me, Jesus is there. When my sin and my brokenness overwhelm me, Jesus has taken it — is taking it — on himself. And through his death and resurrection, overcomes it all.

It’s the truth that changes everything. And it’s the truth that you can build your life on. For Now, and For Ever.

Stuff Happens

Do you ever feel as if life is coming at you from all different directions? Have you noticed that, so often, family stuff, and work stuff, and stuff-stuff seem to all happen at once?

The truth is — if you’re alive, stuff will happen to you. And if you live long enough, lots of stuff will happen to you. And sometimes, it even piles up. When that happens, what do you do? Well, if you’re like me, you fret over it. You lose sleep. You try to fix it. Or ignore it. Or wonder why. And you start asking questions you can’t answer.

But the truth is, most of the stuff I tend to do when life gets hard is not very helpful. It doesn’t help me navigate the stuff very well, nor does it really change the stuff. So, if worrying doesn’t work; if losing sleep isn’t helpful; if asking unanswerable questions leads nowhere, what should I do? Just sit back and do nothing?

No. And yes.

When the Bible calls us to is patience. The kind of patience that is a sign of the Spirit; the kind of patience that believes the Lord will come; the kind of patience that helps us endure; the kind of patience that inherits the promises. The kind of patience that says: I can’t fix what troubles me. In a way, biblical patience is recognizing what I can’t do. But at the same time, patience isn’t passive. It is a tenacious holding-on to the God who holds on to us; the God who walks with us through the things we face.

You see, biblical patience is a No — and a Yes. It is a No to all my striving — but it is a Yes to the promise that I am not alone. So, when I am tempted to try to tackle my stuff by myself, or run away from it, biblical patience invites me to face it, without fear, but with faith — knowing I am not alone. Therefore, patience is a Yes — to God, his grace, and his guiding presence. And patience is the faith that says: no matter what I face, God is here. God is here.

And where do we most clearly see the “God who is here”? We see that now, in this season — the season of Lent, leading up to Easter. We see the God who is here in the God who was here — Immanuel, God with us. The cross and the empty tomb are God’s greatest gift to patience — because they point us to the reality that God has not left us to face our stuff, our struggles, or our sin, alone. He is here. With us. With me. With you. No matter what we face.

I know I need that kind of patience. How about you?