“And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.” -Acts 20:37-38 (ESV)
At Michael Jackson’s memorial service, Stevie Wonder tearfully sang Michael’s song, “Never Cared To Say Goodbye”. Saying goodbye is hard and missed a lot of the time.
When my dad died, we were an hour late, and missed saying goodbye. When I left the church I loved and placed my key in the secretary’s desk and was walking out for the last time, I came across a lady who worked in one of my favorite ministries there, in the pastoral care area, and said goodbye, so that I could say it to someone.
The last time I was at another church I had been attending, I was lucky to have a moment alone with the senior pastor, a moment of peace in the midst of a crazy meeting that would be the last time I set foot there. Years later, I took my wife to an event, at the church I had loved and left. We were seated near and greeted by a very special man that I had known there. He also was a medical professional who would show up later in my life, at the birth of my son.
Fast forward a few more years, and I saw another dear man from my old church, at a meeting, who had been and was very kind to me. When I was engaged and first married, for about a year or two, my wife and I were often approached by people that had seen me at my old church, but we didn’t know each other’s names.
Before Christmas, someone I have worked with for decades resigned her position. She stopped by my office and personally said goodbye. Over the years, I can remember just a few people who did that, stopped by and said goodbye and I said goodbye to them.
Most people don’t do that. We don’t know how and it’s hard. Sometimes we are leaving with so many feelings or under certain circumstances that it makes it too hard.
I am a car person. I see cars as more than appliances. I remember selling my first car and letting it go, in front of our house. When my second car ‘died’, or was crippled by it’s starter breaking for the second time; I lost patience with it and left it, until I had it towed away.
I was sad when my third car started having problems after sinking tons of money into it, and decided I was tired of the clutch and the manual transmission. I had very mixed feelings about letting it go.
My fourth car is the one I have had the longest, thirteen years. Most of last year, I was planning on and looking for my fifth car, which I found right after Christmas. I have been saying goodbye to car number four, for a while now. I cleaned it out yesterday and started making arrangements to give it away.
I was blessed to have four grandparents in my life, all the way through into early adulthood. Before my grandmother that I was closest to died, I was able to say goodbye, over a six month period, when she was in the hospital and a care facility, run by the same Catholic hospital network where I was born.
Most of my life, goodbyes have not been great, but sometimes they have. And sometimes when it has been difficult, God has provided unconventional ways of seeing and being with people I have departed from, once again, and saying hello to them with grace; knowing that the lack of good goodbyes before is covered by grace and love. No bitterness and complete forgiveness.
In some churches, they give going away parties to people who need to move out of the area, due to work or family. But, if you decide to change churches or try something else; that’s a different matter.
I knew someone who agonized about leaving his church, to join another one on the other side of town. He wrote a letter to the lead pastor, a guy he went to school with; and got no reply. But, another staff pastor did acknowledge him.
There is a tradition of leaving with the blessing or being sent by those you leave. This is beautiful when it happens, but often does not. I remember when I decided to leave my homegroup and join a different one. I called to say goodbye and they blessed my leaving. When I could not attend that next group because of my school schedule, I was able to tell them and that was cool too.
It was painful when we stopped meeting with another couple for church, who did finally move too far away. We saw them, with our boys, a couple of months ago and said hello over a number of hours, and loved one another as if we had never been apart, because they are family forever.
The one time in my life, that I did greeting ministry: I was one of the greeters at the front door of our church on a Sunday morning, when I normally did not attend in the morning, but the evening service, because most of the time I worked at my ‘day job’ on Sunday mornings. That was the morning that it was announced that our pastor had suddenly stepped down, that past week. My job was to be the face of the church that day, that greeted everyone, as they came to be shocked by very bad news.
I also remember that at a large funeral, a few years later; when a person who had not said goodbye to me very well, years earlier, must have spotted me and crossed a large room, and apologized, and we covered our goodbye with forgiveness and grace.
About two years ago, before my wife’s dad died, who I was praying my heart out that he would not die; the last time I saw him, I told him for the first and only time, that I loved him. That was my goodbye that I could not bear to say and I am so glad that I said it.