Making Sense of Good-bye

Good-bye.  These two words that we utter together daily as we go about our lives slip glibly off our tongues.  We say it as we leave our houses each morning to go to work or school.  We say it again to coworkers before heading home.  We say it casually when we take our leave from places.  It is a common place expression.  We never think about it because it has become an automatic phrase on our lips.

This simple little expression seems harmless enough, but it can be the most painful words you ever utter.  Some of the darkest days we experience on this journey through life are the ones in which we say good-bye and it is permanent and final.

Good-bye changes us forever.  We lose a piece of ourselves that we never get back.  Loved ones pass away, leaving us with only the memories of the all the special things about them that are tucked away in our hearts.  Friends move away, and you never quite recover from the hurt caused by their departure.

We comfort ourselves and each other by saying things like, “they are in a better place”, or, “at least there isn’t any more pain for them”.  Whether the permanence of a move, or the finality of death, you never quite recover from the ache caused by the loss of family and cherished friends.

I wonder if we even realize what it is we are actually saying.  It is more than just an expression used to say that we are parting.  If you were to look up good-bye in Webster’s dictionary you may be surprised.  The origin of this expression is God be with you. 

As this was sinking into my brain I began to realize just how awesome this is!  Despite the emotional pain we experience as part of the human condition, we are actually expressing the wish of the ultimate joy of being in the presence of God for the person that is moving on.  Is there anything more wonderful than going home?

Good-bye is really us committing our loved ones and friends into the hands of our loving Father in heaven who loves us infinitely more than we can ever love each other.  So maybe good-bye isn’t permanent after all. Instead it is the embodiment of hope expressed in words.   It is just “so long untill we meet again in our Father’s house.”

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way to the place where I am going. (John 14:1-4, NSRV)

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A Servant’s Heart

Heart and soul.  That is what I have poured into the different ministries I have been involved with over the past four years.  The results of this has been successful vacation bible schools, a well-organized praise team (for the most part), hours of small group fellowship with the worship committee and praise team planners, and the development of dear friendships that I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.

There have been long hours spent painting scenery, copying music, and planning worship.  Countless more hours have been spent reading books and articles to help me learn more about the art and skill of leading others, and finding a place of true worship for myself.  Yet all of the hours are worth it, because the reward is seeing the kingdom seeds that are being sown in the people who pass through our doors.

At times, more often than not, it is a thankless job.  No one really knows or sees all of the details that need to be taken care of as you work quietly behind the scenes.  I have been so successful at working in the shadows,  in fact, that sometimes the general congregation has no idea I was even involved with a program or project, and I actually kind of prefer it to be that way.  I am uncomfortable when people come up to me to compliment me or thank me for doing a specific part of the service, handling a task, or on something that I have written.  I don’t know how to respond to their praise.

It can be filled with stress and strife.  Being the face of change in a worship service makes you the target of all of the well-meaning souls that are on a quest to save you from leading the congregation down a road they feel is inappropriate in the realms of worship.  People will tell you not to take these comments personally, but it is hard to separate yourself from the ministry that is being criticized because it has become a part of your identity.

Before long you will discover that you are one of the first people to arrive at church on Sunday morning and one of the last to leave the sanctuary at the conclusion of the service.  While the congregation is engaging in exchanging greetings and news of the week, you are busily making sure the music is in order and praying for peace and calm to make it through your part of the service. Then as people are filing out and complimenting the pastor on a well given sermon you are putting away music stands and equipment.  It goes without saying that you are the last person to get to the pot luck line every time.

Fortunately when you have a servant’s heart you aren’t looking for credit or accolades.  You are working as a child of the King of Heaven and Earth, seeking to bring glory and honor to his name.  The joy you feel isn’t from public acknowledgement.  It comes from within your heart as you feel God smiling down on you.  This is one of the purposes that he created you for, and he loves to see you thriving in your ministry roles.

However, it is easy for a person with a servant heart to become overwhelmed and mired down in a lot of tasks that do not bring them any joy.  When you are a person with a servant’s heart you find it incredibly difficult to say no.  People flock to you when they need help with just about anything.  Before you even realize what is happening you find yourself on multiple committees heading up a myriad of tasks.  You are driven by a desire to serve both God as well as all of humanity.

A servant’s heart can be easily wounded.  The tender heart that is serving does so to bring glory to God, but also to be a light to others and help give them a little bit of joy along the way.  The ministries that the servant heart is a part of become as precious to them as children.   It is very hard to watch these ministries go through changes or die out completely.  It is also hard to explain why you can’t just let go if you are becoming overwhelmed.  If your child were about to stumble you would do all you could to catch them and prevent them from falling.  It is the same thing when it comes to a ministry.  You can’t let it fall if there is anything in your power that you can do to help it not stumble or trip up along the way.

It can be a very lonely place.  You are so busy taking care of others that no one realizes that perhaps you might need cared for as well.  Natalie Grant sings a song called “Back At My Heart”, and I think she has captured the essence of a person with a servant heart:

Strong on the outside
But coming apart at the seams
That’s me

Tragically always together
But bruised underneath
Well, that’s me

I stand just to stumble
Tripping on my pride
Why do I always try to hide?

Read more: Natalie Grant – Back At My Heart Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Right, wrong, or indifferent, the person with a servant heart is still only human.  We have passions, quirks, and short comings.  We lean very heavily on our God above for strength  in our weaknesses and to help us in our brokeness.  We also love with all that is in us and have a fierce loyalty and sense of responsibility.

Perhaps there are different kinds of servant hearts out there, but this is what mine looks like.  And that is okay because according to Psalm 139:14, I am fearfully and wonderfully made (NRSV).