It was a gorgeous June evening, with a clear sky and bright sun slowly setting in the background. My university roommates and I had danced and laughed and prayed and celebrated together and then, with sparklers and cheering, we sent the new couple away on their honeymoon. It was the second wedding in two weeks, one friend trading the role of bride and bridesmaid with another, only two weeks apart. And it was the last moment together for the four of us – the grand finale to a season where we had lived, done ministry, graduated, and eagerly sought Jesus together. It was one of the best days, but it ended with the necessity of goodbye.
Three years later and I still remember how bittersweet that moment was and how, despite all the excitement of new adventures that would take us each to different cities and nations and deeper into God’s working and leading in our lives, I cried when I left, and for months, my heart ached because I missed these friends so dearly.
To be honest, my heart often still aches. For these and other close friends and family still spread across the globe. Sometimes I feel as though my heart is scattered in a hundred pieces, with the people and places God brought into my life and I into theirs, for a time. A time I often thought was too short.
But it was a time where God did something meaningful and beautiful. And that’s worth celebrating and cherishing and thanking God for again and again, because some of the most powerful ways He shows His love to us are through the depths of human relationships. We were designed to live life in community, to be characterized by deep, gracious, and resilient love for one another, and to be tangible representatives of friendships that focus our eyes continually on Jesus.
But this work of God – in our lives and our communities – on both an individual and collective level was never meant to be or to stay about only us. We were never meant to create comfortable walls around the life-altering reality of the Gospel. Community at its worst lulls us into complacency and familiarity and at its best, inspires us to fully pursue the things of God wherever they may take us.
When our hearts are captivated by the gospel unfolding across all places and in all the marketplaces of life, goodbye is not only inevitable, it’s invited.
One of my deepest prayers for our church – for the church – is that we would be people who both welcome with wide arms and full hearts and who send out, hands open in surrender, with bold prayers for the Kingdom to unfold in all places. That this would be a place where people can stay and learn and grow for a really long time and a place where people likewise can come for a short while and be filled and sent out again. That, in Christ, we would both sink our roots deep and chasing the leading of His Spirit, we would spread our wings wide. And it’s a dream and a prayer that scares me, because it’s one that requires that I invest deeply with love, and yet hold loosely to notions of consistency in anything apart from Christ.
It challenges me in the same way that goodbyes challenge me. Because, whether I am the one that goes or the one that stays, it requires that I trust the timing, leading, and faithfulness of God. It requires that I root my heart in the Lord first, and pursue community and relationships from that place, rather than the other way around. It requires that the priority in my heart be Christ Himself, not the people around me, as beautiful as they may be. It requires that I place a higher value on the Gospel than I do in my own comfort or familiarity in friendships. And it requires that I choose to faithfully and fully invest, and faithfully and fully choose to love and choose to risk, as much as I am able, in the community around me right now despite the constant threat and inevitability of goodbye.
This past weekend, I had the joy of watching some of the friends I’ve met in grad school, walk across the stage and receive their well-deserved university diplomas. In the moments of cheering when their names were called, I felt such excitement for them, pride for all of their hard work, and immense gratitude for who they are and the time in which God brought them into my life. But I also knew in that moment that this too was a bittersweet finale – the end of one adventure and the beginning of another, an adventure that would keep some nearby and take others far away. And for a moment I wanted to stay there, in the familiar sadness of goodbye. But all I could think was Adieu.
Adieu, in French, translates as goodbye but literally means, “to God” or the phrase bid you adieu as “I commend you to God.” It is a phrase in which, I think there is much wisdom and much beauty and a challenging invitation to the way we pursue community in our increasingly transient world – in the letting go with hearts full and hands open, fully surrendered to God and yet deeply invested in love.
Because, when our hearts are captivated by the gospel unfolding across all places and in all the marketplaces of life, goodbye is not only inevitable, it’s invited. And, despite its difficulty, it’s really beautiful. When Christ is our exceedingly great reward, even in goodbyes we can find immense joy and comfort.
With hearts full and hands open, Adieu.