Faithful Christians say goodbye a lot

Faithful Christians will always be saying good-bye. They are the ones who spend time investing in people, cultivating transparency and honesty, sharing in laughter and tears, serving together for the advance of their great cause. And sometimes they see their friends sense a call to a new place, and though their time together was sweet, they say goodbye in hope knowing they’ll meet again in the kingdom, and that the parting will be eternally worth it.

Or, after years of being loved and cared for, shepherded and trained, challenged and comforted, discipled and debriefed, they themselves will sense the inward call to go. The gospel is too sweet and Jesus is too glorious and the lost are too many for them to stay around. They hope that perhaps God might use them more in a new place. And so they go, trusting the everlasting arms to uphold them.

This goodbye discomfort is good and healthy for the church. When we start resisting the goodbyes, fearing them, or organizing our lives so as to avoid them, we’re no longer walking by faith. We’re either too settled, never open to what God may have for us, or too insulated, not investing in the people who God is calling to go.

So faithful Christians will say goodbye a lot. Because they will always be the ones invested in the sent, or invested in the going. They wear the shoes of “readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Having peace with God, they are ready for anything, including the risks of having to say goodbye.

Jesus knows that his disciples will often experience goodbye pains. That’s why he wanted to encourage them with goodbye promises:

Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

Mark 10:29-30

Jesus sees our goodbyes. And he reminds us that in Christ, goodbyes are investments, not sacrifices. What we give up we get back one hundredfold. One fine morning, a billion years from now, when I wake up in the new heavens and the new earth, the idea that I thought some temporary discomforts in this vapor- life were a sacrifice will seem laughable.

What I said at the beginning of this reflection is not actually true. I said, “Faithful Christians will always be saying goodbye.” But they won’t. There will come a day they will never say goodbye again, when they will all be home, forever, with their Lord and with their friends. We can say goodbye now because we know that soon, we’ll never have to do it again.

Look at the birds

Jesus tells us to “Look at the birds.” There are several imperatives in the Sermon on the Mount, but this is one probably doesn’t get the air-time it deserves. How fascinating that Jesus, to combat anxiety, prescribes bird-watching. Our busy lives often preclude times for prolonged, thoughtful observation of the created world. We’re up early, getting the kids fed and dressed and out the door, blazing off to work, tumbling in the front door afterwards, eating and reviewing the day before getting kids to bed. Our evenings often consist of screens and half-hearted, distracted conversations. The next morning starts it all again, and over time the frenzied activity oozes into our weekends, our Sundays, our family dinners, and we’re reaching a fever pitch we know is unhealthy but cannot break. Anxiety sets in, and the speed of life becomes almost unbearable. Now, we’re not only busy but worried and frenetic. Our anxiety propels us into more busyness, more activity, more unreflective routine-following.

And Jesus tells worriers: “Look at the birds.” Jesus will teach his disciples that healthy, well-fed birds are evidence of God’s fatherly care for his creation. They are taken care of by God, and shouldn’t we trust him to take care of us too? This should calm our hearts: God’s loving, providential care over the lives of his beloved children is the antidote to anxiety.

But let’s also consider that Jesus gave his disciples a very practical imperative: “Look at the birds” and then a bit later “Consider the lilies.” I wonder, is that command even doable for many Christians today? Is there room in the schedule for uninterrupted meditation on God’s created world? Do we still have the capacity to stare at something, grapple with it until it yields a lesson? In a world of beeps and buzzes and lights and sounds and likes and shares and clicks, can we meditate?

To fight worry, one must find a pace of life that makes “Look at the birds” a conceivable option. I fear too many Christians live in such a way that render Jesus’ commands to look at the birds and consider the lilies un-obeyable. These are thought activities you can’t do on the go. Nobody bird-watches in a hurry. Considering the lilies of the field can’t happen in an unsettled, frenzied life.

Our worries grow in the soils of busyness and activity, so Jesus gives us a command that forces us to stop. Slow down. Look. Ponder. Learn, and regain perspective. “Look at the birds.” 

Have you taken time lately to look at the birds? To consider the lilies? To pause, think, and remember who you are, who God is, and how he cares for you?