At first, I thought it strange that on the same night my 18 year old daughter went to her senior prom and my 11 year old daughter returned from her first overnight, school field trip, I found myself reading an old poem I wrote to my grandmother before she passed away. Then these words drifted through my mind: this is the long good-bye, somebody tell me why. I think these words, despite the rest of the song’s lyrics (The Long Goodbye by Brooks and Dunn) which are about a failing romantic relationship, speak to a timeless truth of life and loss.
I’m not sure when I first understood that my children are not really mine. I’ll admit, I am a little slow when it comes to the obvious. So while most of you probably knew early on that your children are gifts from God, entrusted to your care for a season, I naively assumed those moments would last forever. The mommy-hold-my-hand moments, the mommy-bake-cookies-with-me moments, the mommy-can-we-color moments, the mommy-your-my-whole-world-and-i-never-want-to-leave-you moments. Those moments. Do you remember them?
Tonight, as I watched my oldest drive away from me and toward a life that she lives almost entirely apart from me, I couldn’t help but remember that in a few short months she will leave for college. And while I rejoiced with my youngest that she conquered her fears of sleeping away from home, a familiar sadness settled in my soul. Here she goes…she’s on her way too.
A child’s primary goal is to leave her parents. From the very start, even in the womb, the main purpose of her development is to get out, get away, separate and live on her own, apart from me. The child who once shared my body, who was quite literally “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”, emerges, sits up, crawls, walks and then at last, runs. And while she returns at first for a steady hand, and later for a steady heart, those moments when I see her walking toward me grow further and further apart. She is going, she has always been going.
How is it that life should be so much about good-byes? You may say I am being extreme, but think on it for a moment. Can you name a person in your life that you will not, at one time or another, have to say good-bye to? We lose everyone unless they lose us first. Perhaps the Dread Pirate Roberts was not just spewing works soaked in bitterness when he said “Life is pain…anyone who says differently is selling something.” I believe he was expressing a timeless truth.
I’d like to take his words one step further and suggest that life is pain because life is loss. This is the long good-bye. I’m sure there are lots of philosophical and theological conversations we could have as to why but that is not my reason for writing this. I do not live as a person with no hope, no compass, no anchor. I know the way and I know the answer. But even in the light of eternal hope and glory, we walk in the shadow of death. I need not fear. But I hurt. Everyone hurts. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. Don’t buy it.
Please don’t mistake me for a cynic! Rather, I like to consider myself a realist – a Christian realist, if you will. If we ignore the truths, even the truths of this world, how can we honestly interpret our reality? Even more so, how can we genuinely relate to others, especially those who don’t have the hope of Christ? There is great danger in minimizing life’s struggles or buying into the notion that as Christians we have to slap a smile on every situation.
So, my message to you (if I must have one) is that perhaps, rather than railing against the painful realities of life, rather than running from, ignoring or burying pain, rather than seeking revenge or retaliation, rather than raising our fists at God, we would be better served by deeply and honesetly accepting the truth that life, while filled with joy and daily miracles, is also fraught with loss, pain and suffering.
We waste so much energy denying reality and battling that which we can not change. Maybe instead we could let go and let the pain wash over us. Maybe we would find peace in Jesus’ words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Maybe then we might see that God leaves no void he isn’t planning to fill. That all of the empty, aching caverns left behind by life’s losses, are potential reservoirs crying out to be filled by the only thing that will ever eternally satsify.