Can you say it with a smile? With a joyful expression and a hopeful tone? With a positive attitude? Neither can I.
Maybe I could pull it off if I know the goodbye is really temporary, like for someone going away for the weekend, or on their honeymoon, or a really cool vacation. Then I know that their journey and their destination is filled with blessings and opportunities, and I realize that they’ll only be gone a few days or a couple weeks. I can handle that.
But most of the time, the goodbye has a lot of luggage with it. It anticipates a separation that lasts seemingly for eons. It carries a finality that echoes like the repercussion of a heavy door slamming into the emptiness of an old house. It craves the reassurance of a momentary absence, but it dreads the reality of a pile of pages ripped from the calendar and strewn about with no familiar voice in reply. I know I’ll hear the voice and see the face again soon, but nobody has ever clocked a definition to soon. Soon isn’t, when you’re talking about the goodbye.
So I say goodbye to my daughter, as she begins her new life in another state, on another planet. I say goodbye to my son as he heads back to college. I say goodbye to friends I hadn’t seen in years, after our all too brief and all to infrequent reunion.
Some goodbyes weigh a lot more than others. The goodbye to the one whose tail no longer wags. The goodbye to a soon-to-be ex, whose last bag is in the car. The goodbye to one who has owned your heart and your mind for so long, but who no longer owns their own. The goodbye to one as close as a brother, who now rejoices in the presence of Jesus.
It is in the shadow of those goodbyes that we need to learn what the word truly means. Goodbye comes from 16th Century English as a contraction of the phrase, “God be with you!” That is what we are saying. That’s the truth we truly want to express, even if the precise words can’t seem to find the way from our hearts to our lips.
God be with you! Even though I can’t. Even though mountains and valleys have sprung up between us. Even though my heart pleads to hear your laugh in person. Even though we cannot bridge time and space and eternity.
But God can. This is why Job can proclaim that our Redeemer lives triumphantly, and in the end we will see Him and those with Him in the flesh! God be with you!
This is the truth spoken by King David when his baby boy has died and he cannot bring him back to life, but in the dogged determination of an ever persevering faith, he says, “I will go to him.” God be with you!
This is the place Jesus takes alongside us in resurrected power and glory when He promises to be with us always, no matter who else has left. This is the place He prepares for us, when He comes back to take us to be where He is.
And that is heaven, my friends! Not a spot on a map or a star in the galaxy. With Jesus, always.
If I can’t be with you, I pray and praise the God who already and always is. God be with you!
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