“We do not want you…to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13
So we come to our final weekend together.
Learning how to say goodbye is like baking a pie from scratch. It’s messy no matter how you approach it. You can pretend that you never really liked pie, and not even try. You can make it quick and easy, and buy a cheap store substitute. In both cases, you sidestep the mess, but miss out on the supreme pleasure that comes with it. Or you can roll up your sleeves, dive in and go wherever it takes you.
I get it how weird all this is. I am as big a feeler as there is. Strike up a melancholy oboe in a movie, and I’ll start to weep (even if it’s Godzilla). If Janis and I have had an advantage, it’s that we’ve been able to keep fitfully occupied with our preparations. But whenever I pause to take a breath, all the emotion is right there. So we’re in this together.
And I pray this Sunday, we’ll choose to be in it together. Some of you are playing the avoidance game, choosing not to even be in church. It’s a very understandable response, but as the veteran of a thousand goodbyes, let me encourage you to just face the hurt and drink it down to the dregs. Don’t run from it.
In the powerful movie Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy are making a final visit to the English countryside – final because Joy is dying of cancer. Getting caught in the rain, they run into a barn, where Lewis says that he wants to just remain in that moment. He recalls the devastation of losing his mother as a child, and wants nothing more than to run from the pain.
Joy looks up at him, and says, “It’s not going to last, Jack. I’m going to die.” He protests, saying, “Let’s not spoil this moment.” “It doesn’t spoil it,” she replies. “It makes it real. The pain then is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.”
The pain then is part of the happiness now.
See, they’re all intertwined together. Love and laughter are intricately linked with loss and sorrow. You can’t accept one without the other.
Followers of Christ have an added advantage when it comes to goodbyes. Which is why Paul told the Thessalonians that Christians grieve, but not as those who have no hope. He wrote those words in the context of teaching about the return of Christ. Because Christ will one day return and bring together into eternity all those who have placed their trust in him, no goodbye – not even death – can produce a lasting sting. The hurt will not only go away, but be swallowed up entirely by overwhelming joy.
Anchored by that hope, a Christian can embrace the pain of goodbye in a way that others cannot.
Shadowlands ends with a brief voice-over, as Anthony Hopkins (who played Lewis masterfully) speaks these words to us (and notice the brilliant, poetic reversal of Joy’s earlier thoughts.)
“I have no answers anymore. Only the life I’ve lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety. The man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”
So, though it’s funny to say this as my final Sunday approaches, but dear ones: choose suffering.
The pain now is part of the happiness then.