Today we said a long goodbye. We squeezed everything we could out of a last few moments before we hugged and cried and then watched our dear friends drive away to catch a flight to a new life in a faraway place. Over the past years God has knit our families so close together we have been as one. There is something heavenly about knowing people in such a way; we trust one another with everything, we know that we are always loved and always welcome, and we are known even to others by our love for one another. Life is taking them to another place and we will miss each other very much.
I love Autumn, but it is uniquely a time of good-byes. As a kid it was goodbye to summers I thought should never end – certainly not to be interrupted by having to go to school (childhood prison). And Autumn was a time to leave home for college. I would repeat that for several years until setting roots in my own faraway place.
We just say too many goodbyes in this life. Some goodbyes are not that big a deal – we leave home in the morning fully expecting to be greeted again by hello before the day’s end. But some goodbyes are weightier. They happen when big changes happen and life will not be the same as before. I think of when I took my own kids to college – I knew that a season of life that I loved was over. We would be family forever, but life with young kids would not be lived again. I have stood graveside for final farewells, hurting in every cell of my being. And then there are times like this when friends with whom we have walked closely will no longer be close enough to do so. And their children who we love like our own will not be near enough to hold. And they will grow older, as will we. We cannot help but grieve the passing of seasons of closeness. They are never long enough or complete enough, because this is not Heaven.
God has made us in His image. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have lived with an eternal love that has been extended by grace to all of His image-bearers. Our world is fallen, but being human means we each still have deep longings for right relationships. We long for life among those who would never reject us, who would receive us even at our worst and never give up on us. We will do just about anything to find that — to feel some sense of closeness and intimacy. We long for unconditional love. But the fallen world is simply not like that.
Which is why there are genuine bursts of beauty into this world when it happens. Family and friends are like oases of peace in an otherwise fairly heartless world. One of the marks of Christian community is that family-kind-of-love. God is building a new family that transcends every conceivable barrier. When we share Kingdom life, as have with our friends, everything seems right. The very fact that we treasure such unity testifies of our longing. It also reminds us of its scarcity here in this world. It is why saying goodbye is so hard.
Among God’s Kingdom people, every goodbye is a promise of a future hello. So as we see close friends leave for a faraway place, in confidence of the promise that we’ll be together again, we pray the blessing of God over one another…
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)