I moved around a lot while growing up. I lived in five states, from Alaska to New York to Miami to Chicago to Washington. It was always an adventure to move to a new place–but to get there I had to say good-bye. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. And I suspect that I am not alone.
It takes courage to speak words of thankfulness for the relationship and the experiences enjoyed. And it takes honesty to say what needs to be said. Not everyone can do this, so we say “I’ll see you again” or “We’ll visit you” or “Look us up next time you are back in town.” I drift by default to those conventions because I don’t like to say good-by.
Saying good-by means acknowledging that there is a finality to this chapter of the relationship and that we may not see one another this side of heaven. Saying good-bye reminds us of our mortality. And we don’t like to remember our mortality. Maybe that’s why good-bye’s are so hard.
When Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure, he said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-2).
Jesus faces our anxiety of saying good-bye with a hope that is greater than our loss. Perhaps this is what prompted CS Lewis to write that “Christians don’t say ‘Good-bye’. They say, ‘farewell for now.'” I can live with that good-bye because it sets the loss we experience against the greater hope that Jesus invites us to enjoy with God and his friends forever.
POSTSCRIPT, Jan 3: I said good-by to my grown children today, and my eyes welled with tears all day long. Sometimes tears say it all.