You may have heard this old Sunday school story:
Teacher: All right, boys and girls, what’s fuzzy, has a bushy tail and gathers nuts in the fall?
Johnny: Sure sounds like a squirrel to me, but I know the answer must be Jesus.
I realized shortly after writing “Good Goodbyes” that I would need a part 2. The content of that blog entry was largely macro scale. The “Jesus is the answer to life’s biggest questions” kind of truth. And great, foundational truth it is; but on a micro scale, He created us to live in a complex world where there are questions asked that “Jesus” is not the answer to. Just like that Sunday school teacher’s question: she was talking about a squirrel, but the child felt wrong giving an answer that was anything but “Jesus”.
Practical life advice does not always sum up to a short, one word, spiritual answer either. Just like saying goodbye. There’s a daily, painful reality that just the word “Jesus” does not solve or fix. The topic of goodbyes could send us in several different directions, but today I will try to stick to the concept that sometimes it is good to say goodbye.
A breakup, for example.
That’s what started my recent journey with good goodbyes. A breakup that left me wounded, hurting, and questioning my self-worth. A blindsided breakup that I didn’t see coming a mile away… until it punched me right in the heart. And, if I’m being totally honest, a breakup from a relationship that may not have been the best thing for me.
It’s taken a lot of not-so-pretty endings to refine me (a process that is not nearly over with, I assure you). But looking back at this most recent one, I was able to see the painful growth that’s been happening in my life over years of goodbyes. I think identifying what would be good to say goodbye to in our lives is fairly easy (not always, though). It’s the “how” that we really get stuck on.
While I haven’t boiled it down to a “5 Easy Steps” formula, I do want to share with what I feel like was different this time in how I handled my goodbye:
Rest in the void. Anytime we part with something or someone in our lives, there’s a void left behind. The bigger and more intimate the connection, the more painful and gaping the void is. Our human tendency is to fill this as quickly as possible in efforts to make the pain stop, but this isn’t always a good thing. Healing takes time, and there is no substitute for time.
I think the parallel between physical wounds and emotional wounds is a good way to think about it. Unless you’re Wolverine, your body takes time to heal. And there aren’t many substitutes for replacing what your body needs post-injury and will repair itself with, in time. It’s the “in time” that’s hard to wait for. Which is why I encourage you to find rest in the pain. It’s a behavior of discipline and self-control, but it will keep you from filling a dirt hole in your garden with rocks, just because you didn’t have the right plant to put in, yet.
“So, what did you learn from that?” My dad’s words echo in my head every time something happens in my life that didn’t go the way I planned… a car accident, a fight with a friend, a perfectly good recipe of cookies that ended up tasting like pure salt. No matter the scale of the calamity, it was the calm, yet dependable question he left me to wrestle with. What did I learn from that? I think from the ages of 13-17 my answer was “NOTHING”. Thankfully, I outgrew the stage where I knew everything, and have moved into the stage of actual growth.
With this recent goodbye, I was left to ask myself, “What did I learn from that? How can I grow from whatever brought me to this place? Surely I have some ownership to take as to why this relationship didn’t work out.” And the realization that I needed to own it, too, was a huge moment of growth for me. I know how to be the victim. But to realize I may be part of the problem… that was where things began to change in my heart.
To take the place of the victim every time will not only leave you sitting alone at your own pity party, but it won’t give you any room to grow. If nothing is your fault, then nothing needs to change and you have arrived at perfection. In dating, you may be searching for your “list” of what you want in another person. But I believe dating is also a time to learn about yourself and grow to be the kind of person someone would want to date and eventually marry. Therefore, with each relationship should come personal growth and changes. Take hold of what you did well, and learn from what you didn’t. It’s all a part of the process of growth.
Seek truth and embrace it. In learning from what I could grow from, I had to also acknowledge that there were lies spoken to my soul: lies about my value, lies about what I have to offer, and lies about what I deserve. These messages are poison, and need to be prevented from taking root in my soul. This is where Kelly’s quote from my “Good Goodbyes” post hit home, “Certain things choke us, wound us, and bind us in ways that keep us from new hello’s. They deserve a farewell.”**
Prayer. Time spent with the Lord. Reading truth in scripture. Embracing good, Godly wisdom and affirmation from those who love you. All are necessary to combat the spiritual battle that is taking place for your heart.
Letting go is physical AND emotional. “But I haven’t always said goodbye to the things I should have. Or, just as often, I have said goodbye externally while my heart remained attached.”** If I’m picking which one is easier, as a woman I believe physically parting with something or someone is much easier than letting go in my heart.
In this way, I believe the story of Abraham and Isaac is misused. It’s a well-known bible story of when God asked Abraham to physically kill his only son Isaac, the son he had waited a long time for, as a sacrifice to Him. Why? Bible doesn’t really say. But Abraham obeyed, to the point where he was in the action of obedience, knife in had…but JUST before he went through with it, God stopped him. God rewarded Abraham’s obedience and willingness to sacrifice what he loved the most by sparing Isaac’s life and providing a ram to sacrifice instead.
The bible doesn’t give account of their dialogue, but I bet it was heartbreaking. He physically tied up Isaac and laied him on the altar. I’m sure he wept. Isaac probably had a million things racing through his mind, and I’m sure he wept too. And I have to believe that Isaac, being MUCH younger than Abraham, could have physically fought his way out of it. But as painful and confusing as this must have been for both of them, they both walked in obedience. Abraham didn’t know he would get to walk home that day with Isaac. He probably prayed and hoped for it. He told Isaac “God will provide the sacrifice”, in faith. But he completely let go. He didn’t bring a backup plan, or walk as slowly as possible up the mountain, waiting for God to change his mind.
He let go. In action and in heart.
Since we know the punch line to this story–that Abraham gets to keep what he was willing to let go of–I think at times we are also willing to go through the action of obedience, while secretly holding on in our heart, expecting God to give it back. And if that’s the case, I think we’ve missed the point entirely.
Saying goodbye to a person, a job, a season, a dream… is not always easy. It can look and feel very bleak. There are days and moments where it feels like you take one step forward only to take two steps backwards. And while there isn’t a formula of success to follow, I believe saying goodbye is ultimately one day–one moment–at a time.
“We have to believe that where God wants to take us will be better than what we’re clinging to, even if we can’t imagine it”**
** Kelly Minter, The Living Room Series: No Other Gods
originally written 6/10/12