Saying Goodbye Sucks!

Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn’t work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos. – Charles M. Schulz

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It was February 1985 when I loaded up my 1967 Valiant Station wagon, affectionally called “Boris” (the nickname of an old flame), and drove myself from Rockhampton to Melbourne. I was all of 19 years old and, of course, had the world all figured out …!! What took me to Melbourne? Well, I could say it was the leading of the Divine, or a career move, or a whole bunch of other crap, but really I came down because a tall, gorgeous redhead young man had stolen my heart on his short visit to Rockhampton and I was stalking him ?

I had no idea that this guy was also the pastor’s son at a conservative, Pentecostal church in Melbourne. I still remember the first time I set foot in that place. I felt like I had stepped into another planet and I’m sure with my tight jeans, several ear piercings and motorbike-friendly hair I would have looked like an alien to the parishioners. That was over thirty years ago! How time flies! Here we are all these years later with three incredible young adult kids, two amazing daughters-in-law and two fur children, facing yet another major move and transition in life.

Melbourne has been home for over three decades. As we move to the Sunny State we say goodbye to a city that has held our great joys, amazing triumphs, disastrous failures, disappointments and seasons of what felt like intolerable grief. We say goodbye to family and friends who, when you boil it all down, really are all that matters in life. We say goodbye to communities we love. We say goodbye to a home that has been our haven and most pleasant place. And before I can talk about a different tomorrow, I have to rest in this hauntingly painful place of goodbye. Goodbye sucks!

Is there an elegant way to let go? Can you really say goodbye without anxiety, grief, fear, and horribly ugly crying? If so, I haven’t figured it out. In the past, I have heard people speak lightly and with great excitement about closing a chapter and beginning a new one. I have also heard people talk about living life without regrets. I have not mastered either of these. I find letting go and closing chapters extremely painful. And if you are short on regrets – please come and see me, I’m happy to share.

So I sit here in this liminal space. I am not sure what tomorrow holds. As a person of faith I trust the guidance of Providence. I reflect on my life and like Jacob would say, “You have been here all along, and I didn’t even realise.” I choose to trust this Divine Presence in this place of great unknown. However, I do not deny the tears or the grief. For these are all part of what it means to say farewell.

So, Melbourne, thank you for opening your arms to me. Thank you to my faithful and loving friends. I could not imagine life without you. Thank you to my family – you are my greatest joy and sense of fulfilment in this short life. Thank you to my adversaries – from you I have learnt that I am stronger and have more courage than I ever realised. I’m forever grateful. Thank you to the Spirit of Life that lives in and through me, forever pushing me beyond the edges of safety and comfort.

For all of you, who for many reasons have had to say goodbye – you know this feeling well. Goodbye really does suck. We need to learn to feel, rest and trust the seasons, even the sucky ones.

Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes. – Henry David Thoreau

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Endings …

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“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” 
― Paul Coelho –

In February, my life partner-in-crime made the massive decision to resign from his role as the Senior Minister of CityLife Church in Melbourne. This is a significant choice for someone who has spent most of his life in the church world, working at CityLife in various staff roles for 31 years and as Senior Minister for the last 21 years. His announcement included this: “At age 54, I am at a time in life when I’d like a smaller world not a bigger one, a slower pace not a faster one, and a simpler life not a more complex one.” I admire his courage and clarity. He has recognised an upcoming ending and determined that a season is about to conclude.

There are seasons in our life when we are faced with inevitable and necessary endings. Some of these closures are traumatic. They leave us in shock, robbed of choice, grieving, and perhaps resentful. It is hard to find comfort in endings that are forced upon us, whatever the reason may be. The author of Lamentations dedicates five full chapters to express his grief over his people living in exile and of Jerusalem having been destroyed. The anguish of imposed endings can sit in our bones for many years.

Sometimes we have the privilege of actively participating in an ending. As we listen to our lives, we discern these moments and we are far more involved in crafting the ending of the current season. There is the bitter-sweet reality of recognising that nothing in life is constant. Change is inevitable. Endings happen. They are part of life’s rhythm. And endings matter.

Endings can rise within us like a mist on a cool morning. We suddenly realise that we have changed, and like Alice, there’s no going back. If you are like me, this is not an easy recognition to come to. Driven by nostalgia and longing we frantically look for the open door to go back to where we once belonged and felt safe – but the door has shut. Values that have laid dormant in the crevices of our heart suddenly refuse to be ignored any longer. For me it was following the path of curious compassion that led me to a bigger space of how I see the hand of God at work in the world. However, it also meant the ending of what once was. Even the ending of some relationships. There are some seasons that require these sort of Grand Finales. You cannot take everyone with you on certain journeys of life. And that’s ok.

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Things come to an end to allow for new growth. We grow and we change. Some people use change as a weapon: “You don’t believe/do/think that anymore? You have changed!” Of course we have changed. The goal in life does not include the need to stay rigid and unyielding. Over the years I have watched my partner change. He has outgrown some of his earlier ideals. How he has defined success has changed. What he deeply values has come to the surface. He has taken that arduous journey to the heart and discovered things about himself that have called for difficult decisions. I admire his courage to not ignore this.

Friends, I suggest that in a society that is so desperately trying to conjure up false realities of safety and happiness, endings are the last thing we want to discuss. Therefore, our developed, ‘sophisticated’ world is so poorly equipped in handling closure. Where did we ever get the idea that endings are to be avoided at all costs? People come and go. Ideas come and go. Civilisations come and go. Endings are necessary, not evil.

I watch the Autumn leaves fall outside my office window and Winter comes softly. A season of apparent barrenness. The warm, sunny, beachside days have gone. Winter reminds us of endings. It also reminds us that what looks like death is simply a necessary moment that allows for new life and growth. We cannot fight Winter – it is upon us, whether we like it or not. If we choose, Winter can serve as a wonderful guide and teacher. Within its icy grasp lie the lessons of endings and the whisper of a different tomorrow …

“No, this is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book! That first book is already closed, ended, and tossed into the seas; this new book is newly opened, has just begun! Look, it is the first page! And it is a beautiful one!” 

―C. JoyBell C. –
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