This week has been a week of goodbyes, and seen me shedding many tears. At the end of the week I am retiring from full time church ministry, or, as I call it (not so much from denial as a recognition that there are a number of projects I will be engaged in) going freelance. The inevitable sadness has been exacerbated by two things. One, I am irrevocably sensitised to loss by a number of significant bereavements in childhood and early adolescence. This has wired me to feel goodbyes very deeply, because as with any loss for all of us, there is always an element of cumulative echo. Secondly, there is the nature of ministry. It is not a 9 to 5 job, where work can be left behind for leisure and social connection. It is more a life lived, giving the enormous privilege of walking with people at the most joyous and tragic moments of their lives, meaning those people are irreversibly held in our hearts. Also, in concluding ministry we are expected to leave the area or, if that is not possible as it is not for me, the church. This is wise, to allow the new minister (or in my case a very gifted colleague and co-minister) space to find their own way. Yet it adds to the sense of loss.
Culturally or personally we can be embarrassed by our tears. I have a book on tears coming out next year (watch this space!) as it is a surprisingly complex area of our emotional lives. As I have reflected on my own this week, I have been struck again by the reality of the bible and the range of goodbyes we see reflected there. There is Naomi in Ruth 1, floored by catastrophic bereavements, and on her own admission bitter as a result. There is Paul’s tearful goodbye to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, laced through with the expectation he would not see them again. In contrast we see the abrupt departure of Jacob in Genesis 27 to escape the anger of his brother who he has betrayed – leading to an estrangement which lasted a long time though eventually ending in reconciliation.
Goodbyes come in many forms, throughout our lives from our departure from the womb to the final goodbye of death, and many different kinds in between. The bible never shies away from the reality, complexity and depth of human emotion, and I am grateful for that. So yes, the goodbyes may be painful and the tears copious, but I will try at least to let them flow without shame.