I hate goodbyes.
I am preparing to move to a new city and start a new job. This means everything is changing. My address, my routine, my schedule, my grocery store, my expectations.
In the midst of preparing to say farewell, I suddenly developed tennis elbow. This is particularly strange because I don’t play tennis. I don’t even do anything repetitive except drink a lot of coffee. Being the stubborn person that I am, I neglected seeing a doctor until the pain was so bad that I couldn’t use my left arm at all. Holding my withered paw in my lap, I called an acupuncturist, who gratefully could see me immediately.
As I laid on the table, Dr. Shin began to examine me, navigating the pressure points up and down my arm. “Strange,” he said. “Typically pain from this sort of injury radiates down into your hand. But you, young lady? Your pain is radiating upward into your neck. Are you under any sort of stress?”
I tried to mask the tear that slowly plodded down my cheek, which was mercifully leaking from the eye closest to the pillow. I had not realized how stressful moving and transitioning from one thing to another could be until he asked me the question.
I told him my brief story, and as he carefully placed several thin needles into my elbow, head, and feet, he told me a story about how his culture understands the pathway of our life.
He said, “What comes before is in the East. It is good and beautiful, but you cannot stay there. Much as the sun travels its pathway in the sky, we must head West in our life journey. There is never just one Way. There are many. Don’t be afraid to go on your journey and see where it leads you.”
He dimmed the lights, and left me for 15 minutes to rest, heal, and wonder. In the warm and soothing comfort of my acupuncturist’s office, I started to understand better how to love all the parts of my life—past, present, and future. How to hold them close, and yet let them go.
I remembered Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” I realized that my reluctance to move westward on my journey meant that I was trying to make my way THE way. The hardest thing is to say goodbye to people and places we love so much. Our inclination is for the maintenance of status quo because any amount of change is painful, even when it’s good.
We often take this passage to mean that the only way to ensure a place at the Heavenly banquet table is through our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as if it is our faith which secures our reservation. I think we Christians approach this text from the wrong angle when we simply interpret it as a suggestion about what happens when we die. This passage isn’t about the Eternal Buffet. This passage is really about how we live. Jesus said, “I am The Way, the truth, and the life,” after all.
We struggle with this because changes and endings and goodbyes all feel like deaths. The final chapters, the last times, and the never-agains remind us of our own mortality—and we don’t like to be confronted with that. As creatures relentlessly committed to our own survival, change makes us very nervous.
But, if we are to believe that Jesus is The Way, then that should change how we live on our journey toward the sunset. Christians believe in resurrection, which means that first something beloved must die. Letting go of what has come before, releasing our past to our memory and holding it dear in our hearts, is what allows the stone of the tomb of our grief to be rolled away.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was keenly aware of the need to be open to changes, seeing that life isn’t static and the status quo doesn’t maintain itself very well. His Covenant Prayer puts to words all of the ways we can hold close to The Way while traveling down the many paths along it:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Here’s to all the ways we are called to be employed or laid aside, exalted or made low. Here’s to the way in which we can suffer through our changes along the Way that leads to life.
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Rev. Mandy Sloan McDow is a native of Knoxville, TN, currently suffering for the Lord with an oceanview sanctuary and a marvelous, inclusive congregation in Laguna Beach, CA. Mandy holds a black belt in Taekwondo, makes music whenever possible, and watches a lot of baseball with her three children. Find more of her work at Reverend Mama.