We were having dinner the other night with some very good (bestest ever) friends. The kind of friends with whom the relationship is forged in the trenches of shared ministry…
The kind of friends who, when you hurt them (and I had hurt them ever so badly) find themselves still (even as the hurt shreds their hearts) willing to ponder the possibility of restoration…
The kind of friends who work their way through the dung and to the other side of the hurt and find that the place that had been broken has healed and become stronger than it was before.
The kind of friends who make it hard (really, very hard) to say, “Goodbye.”
And we are saying goodbye this week. Just as dinner was winding down my bestest ever friend said, “This is hard.” A text from him later in the week echoed, “This is hard.” And it is excruciating to say, “Goodbye,” to someone who you know would not even blink if you said, “I need you; please come.”
In my experience saying “Bye” to people you care about is rarely “Good.” It always seems to hurt–a lot. The hurt springs from the realization that you can’t just hop in the car and cruise on over to their place to hang out (even if you didn’t do it as often as you wanted to/should have).
The immediacy possible with geographic proximity is going to give way to some unknown something else that, no matter what, will not have “nearness” as its baseline. It will be “farness.”
To be sure, these days the “farness” is somewhat mitigated by technology… texts… tweets… instant messages… emails… FaceTime… Skype… status updates… regular, old-fashioned, you know, phone calls… they all have the potential to rinse some of the pain away. But still…
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts, Chapter 20. Paul gives them a little speech (well, being Paul, it was not so little) and in the middle of the speech (v.25) he says, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.”
At the end of Paul’s speech (12 verses later), the Ephesian elders are found weeping as they “embraced him and kissed him.” In verse 38, “What grieved them most was [Paul’s] statement that they would never see his face again.” These were not faithless bumpkins; they knew the Gospel; they were church leaders; they knew the promised reality of being present together with the Lord. They knew that heaven is real. But they all felt the pain of knowing that, this side of eternity, they would likely not encounter Paul again. FaceTime–not an option.
Being a bit of a geek, I wondered what’s up with the word, “Goodbye.” It seems, on the face of it, so oxymoronic–so self-refuting. And, any nincompoopish (yes, that is a word) soul with an Oxford Dictionary app on their iPad can tell you that the word derives from an Old English expression: “God be with you.”
Later “good” was substituted for “God” and “be with you” was contracted to “bye.” Perhaps the replacement of “good” for “God” was the first incursion of political correctness. Perhaps, in that day, the words “good” and “God” naturally interchanged among a people who were generally godlier minded. That deeper analysis is the province of etymologists–not a lowly blogifier like me. But I did have this thought…
Maybe we need to recover that sense of God’s presence in our partings.
I can’t be with you, “God be with you.”
I really want to be with you, but it’s not possible, “God be with you.”
Will we ever, ever be together again? I don’t know, “God be with you.”
Will we ever get to eat deliciously grilled steaks at the same table again (my bestest friend grills the bestest steaks)? We have to trust and believe, “God be with you.”
We both believe in Jesus; He will bring us together; in the meantime, “God be with you.”
When my bestest friend texted, “This is hard.” I replied, “How about if we say, ‘See you later, instead?’”
I don’t know how alligators and crocodiles meet and greet each other–if they do at all. And, frankly, I’d rather not be close enough to a crocodilian conversation to pick up the nuances. But I have heard the little ditty: “See ya later, Alligator; After a while, Crocodile.” Maybe those long snouts are onto something.
Meanwhile, “God be with you.”
© 2015, All Rights Reserved; Scripture Quotations from the NIV (Zondervan).
July 29th, 2015 at 8:29 pm
I certainly don’t consider myself a leader in any sort of way. But I think that I understand how the Ephesians leaders felt when they were saying their “God be with yous” to Paul. I’m sure that they felt a sense of immense gratitude for all that Paul had taught them. They no doubt admired him for the incredible example he was of a God-fearing and God-honoring man. I suspect that they were a bit incredulous at Paul’s perseverance in the ministry which God had given him and the cost which Paul had to pay while in the Lord’s service. And I imagine that the Ephesian elders wanted to emulate Paul’s leadership abilities, his knowledge of God’s Word and the skillful way he taught.
Yes, Paul had a very great influence on the lives of each of these Ephesians leaders, for which they were thankful. Yet, “There was a great deal of weeping by everyone” when the time came for Paul to leave them. Because they had come to know Paul through their work together, they no doubt felt a certain bond with Paul that had grown out of their admiration for the man himself. They were grateful, I’m sure, for all that Paul had taught them and for the ministry he had encouraged them to pursue. They would miss the tremendous resource Paul was to them in their ministry and for the way he counseled them from his deep well of wisdom. Maybe most of all, though, the Ephesian elders would miss being with him.
We know from Revelation 2 that the church at Ephesus was praised for its spiritual vigilance. Paul’s influence would continue long after he left the city. It would live on in the lives of those he met, in the lives of those whom he taught and in the lives of those to whom he ministered. But in the hearts of those Ephesians leaders with whom Paul worked closely, there was, I’m sure, a special longing for the very presence of Paul himself. “Maybe,” as Howard suggests, “we need to recover that sense of God’s presence in our partings.” Then, I suppose, our “goodbye” would regain its sense of “God be with you.”
It’s difficult for me, Howard, to say “goodbye” to you…but from my heart I can earnestly say, “God be with you.”
July 30th, 2015 at 7:16 am
Thanx, John. God be with you and Nancy!