What do you do when you don’t get to say goodbye like you thought you would, when things don’t end all neat and pretty like you planned, when you’re left sobbing your heart out in your car in a parking lot late at night, because it’s the end and you never knew it was going to be.
When you suffered through a rough shift at work, but you comforted yourself (and others) with the expectation of having a good week next week and getting to savor last moments and say goodbye to these people, this place.
And then you get one text message in that car right after close, and it shatters every hope you had and takes your heart with it. “They wanted me to tell you that we no longer need you for next week, you’ve served your two weeks, and the new managers we’ve been training are ready, so you’re done. Today was your last day. Good luck.”
And you immediately press call and you try not to sound hysterical or start crying into the phone as you desperately grasp for shreds of understanding only to get nothing, and you try not to shout but the volume of your voice is creeping up as you say “I don’t care about the shifts! It’s the people! I CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE!”
I have labored with these people for up to two years and it was going to be hard enough to say goodbye. But then the opportunity to say goodbye to many of them was taken from me in such a way that I could do absolutely nothing about it. And I was upset. This stung. I was left feeling betrayed and helpless, because my plans had been changed and things were thoroughly out of my control.
Like many of us, my first instinct when feeling hurt and helpless is anger. Why would this happen? This wasn’t what I wanted! It’s not fair!
But you know what?
I am not the only one who has ever been denied a goodbye.
Over the past five or six weeks, I’ve been listening to Evidence Not Seen, the autobiography of missionary Darlene Deibler Rose. It’s her testimony of her ministry in the Netherlands East Indies (present-day Papua New Guinea) and her experience as a POW in Japanese prison camps. I just finished it today. It’s an incredibly moving story, both encouraging and challenging personally. But here’s my point: Darlene didn’t get to say goodbye to her husband. He died in the men’s prison camp, and she didn’t get to say goodbye. And oh, how she wrestled with these tumultuous feelings of anger and bitterness and pain and sorrow. But in the end, she could always say, “Lord, I still trust You. You are still good.”
I don’t think Mary, Jesus’ mother, got to say goodbye to Him either. He was taken in the garden, where He was with His disciples, and Mary wasn’t there. How it must have made her frantic to learn what had happened, that He was arrested, to realize that He would be killed and she hadn’t gotten to say goodbye.
There are countless others. Like Corrie ten Boom, who didn’t get to say goodbye to her siblings and nieces and nephews as she was taken away to prison. Like Joseph being taken from his family, and his father who wouldn’t know for a long time what had happened to him. Like Daniel and his three friends, who were captured and carried away to Babylon. Even if they got to say goodbye to their families, it certainly wasn’t a lengthy or expected one.
It’s a fact of life in this world that sometimes seasons and relationships end without warning. We have it all planned out the way we think it should look. Either these things aren’t going to end yet, or they’re going to end in a controlled way, with an appropriate amount of notice, and with reasonable levels of sentimentality (fond farewells) and forward momentum. But sometimes the story God is writing in our lives doesn’t look neat and pretty.
“We desire to live completely surrendered of our plans, laying down the way we would write the story in exchange for eyes wide open to see how He is writing it.” (Katie Davis Majors) When we surrender the way we have decided things should be, we are free to open our eyes and truly see what God is doing in our lives. That doesn’t mean we immediately know what He was doing or why, but it does mean we are freer to walk forward, trusting that even though we are not in control, He is–and that’s better.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
* * *
There’s a song I heard today that resonated with me.
There is a wrestling in my heart and my mind
A disturbance and a tension I cannot seem to drive
And if I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear
To sit here in this silence and really hear You
What will You ask of me?
Will I listen to Your voice when You speak?
Help me to move, help me to see
Help me to do whatever You would ask of me
Help me to go, God help me to stay
“God Help Me,” by Plumb
It reminded me of the chorus to the song my church has been singing as the theme for our mission’s month this year.
Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me;
Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.
Sever any tie, save the tie that binds me to Thy heart—
Lord Jesus, my King, I consecrate my life, Lord, to Thee.
“Lord, Send Me Anywhere” by David Livingstone
There’s a certain sense of fear that usually comes with surrendering your control, your plans, and your present and future to the Lord. We are only human, after all. So when we talk with Him of surrendering ourselves, and being willing to go anywhere and do anything, we often mean “Anything reasonable. Anything relatively painless. After all, You said it’s going to be good, so that means things will go more perfectly than I could even think of. You said You would give me the desires of my heart.” This is the fear, the hesitancy that the song speaks of with the question “What will You ask of me?”
We miss the fact that things being good, things going better than we could think of, doesn’t mean that God’s plan for us will be painless. In fact, I would say that it actually is a pretty clear guarantee that it won’t be painless at all! Jesus promised that in this world we would have trouble! And yet, we are to take heart, for He has overcome the world, and He will be with us at every moment, closer than the breath we inhale.
This is the meaning of Livingstone’s prayer that God would sever any tie except the tie that binds us to the heart of God. He is saying that when we consecrate our lives to God, we can endure anything, for He is with us. And we have no need for fear. We may enter His presence with that hesitancy, that worry over what He will ask of us, but in His nearness we find that it doesn’t matter. Whatever He asks of us, He will supply the strength we need to complete it.
These are the thoughts that have been running through my mind and heart as I let go of what has happened in the past and trust Him to move me forward, and as I contemplate His will for my present and my future. With the change of my focus in my school studies to linguistics, and the consideration of Bible translation, my vision of my involvement missions is broadening. And it’s including some “scary” places. This has caused me to face some reality–that sometimes missionaries don’t get to say goodbye. That sometimes God calls you to places you hadn’t even known existed. That sometimes what begins as a terrifying journey ends at the very place your heart belongs, because He is there with you. It may not look like that I would’ve chosen or expected, but I can trust him in the heartbreak, that it is all part of His beautiful story, and that I am never alone.
I don’t know the future, it’s one day at a time
But I know I’ll be okay with Your hand holding mine
So take all my resistance
Oh God I need Your grace
One step and then the other
Show me the way
Show me the way!
“God Help Me,” by Plumb