No one knew, but I climbed in under the blanket on the side of the bed where my husband had taken his last breath and covered myself up so that the fabric of what touched him last, was touching me.
Certain goodbyes mark time forever, not because they ease the transition into the next thing, but because they feel like the perpetual film glitch at the Saturday matinee when you were a kid. Those goodbyes make you want to scream.
Our word “goodbye” literally comes from “God be with you” and as all true definitions, this one begins and ends with God. For most of us, saying goodbye to our beloved (and all that is connected to their life and death) is seldom good, but when we put God into the picture, when we insert His inscrutable name into the goodbye and dare to believe, perspective changes. I’ll show you.
When the unthinkable or unbearable happens - a final earthly goodbye, our limited humanity leans into the microphone and asks “WHY?” We want someone to step up and give the explanation; as if an explanation would be enough. If God is good, why? If the goodbye that just tore us into pieces too small to ever be put back together is good, why does the future look uninhabitable? Let’s say you and I have just met. I’m wearing boots, so you assume I’m a cowboy. Not only would you have the gender wrong, but you’d be wrong as to my profession. Let’s say because I’m wearing boots, you decide I have a terrible skin disease and don’t want to show my legs. I don’t have a skin disease. Do you see? When our knowledge of someone is entirely based on one small bit of information, we are always wrong. Believer, if we base our knowledge of God and His “goodness” on one piece of information, lack of information, or circumstance, (cowboy boots, skin disease or whatever,) the rest of the particulars are faulty as well, and the whole answer is void of truth. That’s why Jesus gives more…much more, than an answer, because one answer to one question wouldn’t be enough.
Our children don’t understand why the pretty glowing stovetop is off limits and elicits a passionate display of what every momma knows to be one of passionate protection - often several times before a little one stops the attempt to touch. But, they learn to trust us without ever (hopefully) experiencing the burning ramifications of curiosity, rebellion or disobedience. Do you see? We know something they don’t, and what they may view as cruel and heartless, is really love, and in the process, trust grows. Our misunderstood act of love is complicated in contrast to a two-year-old’s comprehension of such “extremes.”
Extreme love to be sure. We resort to violence (a hand slap) to redeem those under our sanctuary of care, and Jesus did the same on the cross for us, even at the risk of being misunderstood and maligned for His actions.
In the Romans 11, we hear of the “kindness and severity” of God, pressing His way into our brokenness to teach the necessity of grafting because we have been broken off from Him through sin. But, for a graft to be successful, it must be pruned, and if we are to know God, we must be grafted into The Vine. If we are grafted in, we must say goodbye to things that otherwise would render us crippled, barren, and left for dead in our grief.
The painful pruning for a Christian produces health by removing dead or dying branches injured by disease or storms…. or death. Pruning protects others by removing dangerous branches that could otherwise fall on the loved ones standing by while we do the work of grief. Pruning removes limbs that can obscure our vision and encourages the development of a strong structure and, prevents deformity. There is even a method of pruning called “renewal and rejuvenation pruning” requiring cuts very close to the ground resulting in the sacrifice of that year’s flowers - but the benefits far outweigh the temporary loss, guaranteeing an abundance of flowers and fruit in the future. Believer, it is the same with our grief; it must be pruned, otherwise we open ourselves and our loved ones to more pain, and that my Friend, is not good.
The recent sale of our home, the one where the kids and I said goodbye to husband and dad, necessitated pruning. I held onto it for a time and for reasons God approved and affirmed, but circumstances confirmed what I knew and God granted the wisdom and courage to allow the pruning. We had rented our home out to several needy families, but as time unrolled itself, the pain of keeping it intensified. I needed an expert to make the cut. God was faithful, we said goodbye, and it was good. Painful, but good, and the fruit….. oh my. This goodbye stands steadfast and tall, stares satan in the face and smiles at the future. This goodbye says, “Watch this.” This “goodbye” assures God is with us; the promise of our Emmanuel.
In John 16:7, Jesus says, “…I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.”
Our Savior’s goodbye turns out to be the very tool with which satan and death is thwarted forever. Now we live not only with the one and only true God beside us, but IN US! This is the victory of “goodbye.”
After 9/11 I saw an ad displaying a lovely row of houses that could have been Anywhere U.S.A. The caption said something like this: “The terrorists thought they would change America forever.” The next picture was of the identical row of houses, but something was different. Every home now displayed an American flag, and the caption underneath the image said, “They did!”
Grieving Friend, this is when we stick our quivering chins out, straighten our bowed and bent shoulders and stare death in its ugly face and say, “What satan meant for evil, God meant for GOOD!” Nothing… NOTHING could stop Him. Nothing will EVER stop Him. This is the “good” in “goodbye.” God not only re-weaves what satan incompetently and unsuccessfully tatted for evil into good, but evil’s attempts backfire and in God’s hands, produce glorious fruit from what satan left for dead! The enemy thought he would change us forever….. he did.