For the umpteenth time I stood at the DFW airport yesterday afternoon and said goodbye to my husband who was accompanied by three other men traveling to Romania for a pastoral graduation. It seemed a fairly common routine to go through this airport ritual as we have done it before, before, before and again and again. Our married lives have been filled with these goodbyes and mostly at airports in America or train stations in Europe.
Dating long distance while attending university separated by two far-flung states started this pattern. After getting engaged we were separated for a year while my fiancée served in the American Army in Korea. Two years later another year in the same army in the same area of the world and our son was born.
Most of our married life we have said goodbye to each other wishing it were not so, but relishing that we had each other to say good bye to and always with anticipation of a reunion at the end. The ordinariness of it does not belie the fact that we would prefer otherwise!
Each time a departure happens I am tempted to wonder if this will be the last time – what if something happens to one of us or one of our children or grandchildren. What if this is the end of the numbered days God knows about for each of us?
Some goodbyes are easier than others. Our family has been reminded again that the anticipated goodbye from the dreaded medical diagnosis is one you don’t know if you can bear or not - the long goodbye to a loved one suffering with Alzheimers disease or terminal cancer. There is no more difficult or agonizing journey; or the goodbye that you did not get to have because a loved one was taken abruptly by a heart attack or a tragic accident or in a war.
Jesus must have anticipated the potential despair his disciples and followers might encounter once He was gone. He understood about separation. He left glory to come to us and then, when returning to the Father said goodbye to those who would give their lives to follow.
He spoke directly to their anticipatory anxiety in John 14: 1-4 and to ours.
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you will be also.”
He knew their sadness. He anticipated it. He Himself cried over Lazarus’s death. He cared deeply about the agony and struggle he knew would take place after his crucifixion. He is foreshadowed in Isaiah 53 as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He sees. He knows and He understands.
In separation, death, goodbye – there is an invitation from the Lord.
An invitation to realize the profound fact that Jesus understands – he really does. He said he does. There is an invitation into His Presence to experience His comfort as never before. There is an invitation to seek Him for wisdom and discernment in how to love the one well you will have to say goodbye to.
Bottom line effective is His Presence and comfort when it seems all hope has vanished. HE is there and HE knows. He is interceding for us right now before the Father (Hebrews 6: 19-20; 7:25-26). This gives us HOPE.
And, there is an invitation to acknowledge the future hope of reunion in the Presence of the Lord forever.
I have watched my friends who have suffered deep, life loss. They model for me this simple way forward - accept the interim of separation as a time to deepen your relationship with God, to serve others and to do all you can to love those who are still here. And, anticpate the glorious reunion that awaits believers in Christ in heaven for all eternity.