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Jun 30, 2011

Investing In Goodbyes

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In the course of a lifetime we say goodbye too many times to count. And there are surely times we wish we had said goodbye properly when another opportunity to say hello face to face never came. Things happen that we never, ever thought would. Just two weeks ago a fifteen year old Christian teenage girl from the Vidalia area did not come home with her family from a vacation in Florida. She took a walk down the beach with a young man she believed to be another teenager, who was not, and never returned. Remorselessly he bludgeoned her to death, devastating her family and our whole community.
The Apostle Paul in our text was saying goodbye to well-loved brothers and sisters he had discipled in the faith and now knew he would not see again in this life. His words of parting are some of the most poignant in all of Scripture; and if you can place yourself in the emotion of the moment, your eyes may water as you empathize with the sadness that brought tears to the Ephesian elders. The circumstances of your daily life are not always so clear cut as Paul’s at this occasion. On his way to Jerusalem, not unlike Jesus years earlier, he knew it was unlikely he would pass this way again. There are certainly circumstances in some lives that tell them they may not see loved ones again before heaven, but we most often part with loved ones and friends thinking tomorrow will be another day like today; yet sometimes tomorrow never comes.
This week I was with my 94 year old father at his home in Colorado, together with my daughter, her husband, and two of my father’s thirty two great-grandchildren. They were visiting from New York City. As they were about to leave my father asked me to lead us all in prayer, even though there was the probability he would see them several more times before their return to New York. I then spent the afternoon alone with him. As I was leaving, with the knowledge I was having breakfast with him the next day, he once again wanted to part with prayer. Now you may say, well sure, he is 94 and death could come sooner than later; so why not be more earnest in every goodbye? But the truth is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, even the youngest.
It may not always be an audible prayer as we say goodbye expecting to see each other at the end of the day or on the morrow, but there are thoughts and words that ought to come to mind in parting with those we love, friends, and those in whom we have an investment; at least, if we are a serious Christian, know life is fragile, and recognize life is best lived with eternity in view. With some in our life, partings are numerous even if only hours, while for others it might be days, months or much longer. Why should longer-separation goodbyes be more earnest than shorter, though that is our habit? At the very least, we should be reminded to think “How well has my life and words conveyed in this time together, even brief, the whole counsel of God? Now you may think, “Wow, the whole counsel of God is a mouthful worthy of years of instruction, not moments. But this is not the warranted perspective. Rather, whatever your time or conversation was about now, did I convey what is consistent with God’s whole counsel, in my words, demeanor, and thoughts? This is not only a good exercise in “bringing every thought into captivity for Christ, I think it is what God calls us to be and do more readily than the rut we allow to characterize our life.
My purpose is not to put words into your mouth, a formula that devolves into mindless ritual. It is to encourage you to think more Christianly of goodbyes, parting, and the holy value of time together in conversation, doing work, parenting, counseling, advising, listening, joking, hanging out, et cetera. The goodbye is a reminder that you both part under God’s mercy, and will meet again only because of His mercy. Did you part “innocent of their blood? That seems heavy, but maybe this meaning of it will help: did you part with the words by which you most want to be remembered; were you a millstone or a “weight-lifter in the trajectory of their faith; what thought have you left in their mind to spur them on to good works? Whether encouraging or admonishing, teaching or modeling did you point them in the right direction? Maybe you think this is all a bit laborious, unwieldy, and impractical. It really isn’t; it’s simply obedience.


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