Most of you never knew Sonya’s mother – Granny is what everyone called her. She was an amazing lady. She could cook like you wouldn’t believe. She was a seamstress extra-ordinaire. She was full of wisdom and mischief and life. She was an amazing lady. One of the most amazing things about Granny is that she could talk. Oh, man, could she talk. Most of her family got the gift, too. I’ll never forget my first experience with the entire family of 9 children and countless grandchildren. There must have been four different conversations going on at the same time, and Granny was involved in all of them. She could talk to anybody – strangers, families, the mailman. I’ll never forget the times I sat with her in the doctor’s waiting area when, in a matter of minutes, she had struck up a conversation with a total stranger that lasted until one or the other was called back to the exam room. Then she found someone else to talk to. Sonya used to tease that when she called her mom, she had to say goodbye almost immediately so that her mom understood there was an end to the conversation coming. It didn’t really matter because most conversations lasted no less than 45 minutes after the first round of goodbyes. Sadly, in later years and especially after Granny’s stroke, the conversations did not last as long and the goodbyes came sooner. And it is the final goodbyes that are always the hardest.
But Scripture teaches us how to prepare for these goodbyes if we are willing students. We see in Enoch’s life that he walked every day in preparation for his final goodbye. We are simply told at the end that “Enoch was no more.” It’s always dangerous to argue from silence in the Scripture, but it seems that his family and friends were not distraught at his departure. We are not told that anyone went out looking for him; he was just no more because he had lived a life that was marked by a daily walk with God. He was a man prepared for his goodbye because of his relationship to the Father.
Abraham knew that before his goodbye would come that a promise had to be kept. So, he called in his most trusted servant and exacted a pledge to fulfill that promise God had given. Because he had experienced the fulfilment of promises in the past, he knew that they would be fulfilled in the future, as long as he followed God. God had given him a son that was a promise for the future. Isaac needed a wife, but he needed a wife from his own country. His goodbye was one of preparation that would secure the future that God had promised.
Some goodbyes are forced upon us – like Jephthah’s daughter. Because of the foolish actions and foolish words from her father, her goodbye came at an early age, in the glory of her youth. Because of a foolish vow, her life was cut short, but she was given three months to celebrate life with her friends and to grieve all that she would never experience.
Joseph’s life is a story of a second-chance to say goodbye. When his brothers sold him into slavery, he was cast into a role that God had planned for him, but he was forced to leave so much behind. Nevertheless, he persisted in his role and in his understanding that God held him in His hands. After many setbacks, he was placed in a secure position that would lead to a goodbye that would bring salvation and peace to his family. Sometimes, sudden, unplanned goodbyes bring about great blessings and secures the hope of many.
Whether or not we are able to prepare for our goodbyes, it is important to remember that as hard as it might be, it can be even harder to hold on – it might even be painful. Very few of us truly embrace change. Just recently, our 8 year old granddaughter, Hayes, experienced this truth. When she was just an infant, her parents bought a van. It was nothing fancy, but it took them on trips and provided hours of entertainment for her. Then, her daddy was in an accident and the insurance company deemed the vehicle totaled. Her dad asked her if she wanted to take one last ride before they dropped the van off at the insurance office, and with tears she said, “I am losing the van of my childhood.” She wanted to hold on to something that meant a great deal to her even though it was damaged and broken. Sometimes we have to know when to let go of broken dreams and broken things, and we have to embrace new hellos. Like the great big Ford F150 her daddy bought to replace it. She’s already in love.
Most people see goodbyes as a final moment – an ending. In our home, when our children leave after an extended stay, we call that day “goodbye day.” Even when we know the separation isn’t forever, there are tears and extra hugs and, of course, just one more kiss. Recently, someone said that the hardest part of the ministry is saying goodbye, and though this is true, one of the most exciting parts of the ministry is the joy of saying, “Hello.” Hello to new opportunities and challenges and people. And while we could talk about the countless goodbyes of Scripture — Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, the disciples leaving their families, Paul heading out on his missionary journeys, John exiled to the Isle of Patmos — we need to realize that without these goodbyes, there wouldn’t have been the fulfillment of prophecy or the spread of the gospel or the grand “hello to heaven” we read in the Book of Revelation.
I don’t think that God ever planned for our goodbyes to be completely comfortable, but we must never lose sight of the fact that they can be sweet: the aroma of life unto life, the reminder of a life well lived. Or they can be a signal that our actions can result in grave consequences. Either way, every goodbye should serve as a reminder that God has a grand purpose and a plan for each one of us if we will only see past the pain and embrace the joys of what is to come.