Giving Credibility to our Witness: Living our Goodbye
By Sheila Papuzynski
When my husband’s cell phone started buzzing at 4 in the morning, and I saw the name of one of the youth we work with flash on the screen, my heart started racing as I jolted up and woke John-Paul. Knowing this teen’s background, knowing some of his struggles and the situation of his family, it was hard to calm my racing heart and remind myself that all would be well in the Lord. After a groggy conversation, and constant reassurance that we would gladly come pick him up if he needed us, John-Paul led us in a prayer and got off the phone. Getting a full report out of my husband at that hour was impossible, but our teen was safe, although shaken up, and had called mostly for prayer and reassurance about some family struggles. Later, when I learned the whole story, it was apparent to me that the precious gift of prayer was the only thing we could have offered him that night – I was just so glad he knew to call. But I was also ashamed to realize how reluctant I had felt at getting involved in his mess.
Ministering to young people, or really, people of any age, and really ministering from the heart, leaves you open for a tremendous amount of worry, stress, and hurt. People struggle with a wide range of difficulties and hurts, some of which are out of their control entirely and plague them their whole lives. As long as there is sin in the world we will suffer from it’s effects. I am amazed as I watch some of my young friends spiral into sadness, depression, and self-loathing, often a result of brokenness in their homes, or pressures from society to fit some “Hollywood mold.” I know that it is precisely into these dark, hurting places, that the Light of Christ most desires to lead me…but I would be lying if I said that I always go bravely forward, rejoicing. To be honest, there are times that I do not go at all! The reality is that in our fast-paced, over-involved, over-worked American way, I often just do not have the time to go deep and love hard. I want to, most of the time, but I have places to be and things to do. I want to, mostly, but it is so messy and if I really give my heart, and really get involved, then it will likely cost me much – in time, energy, and love…and I just plain don’t have the desire to do it! And I don’t think I am the only one. I have even been on the receiving end of this paradigm – speaking to my Christian brothers and sisters and recognizing the glazed look of indifference in their eyes. Though they nod at the right times and give an understanding word here and there, they are somewhere else, far removed, rushing on to the next thing they need to say or do. A pang of sadness shoots through my chest, but I can’t blame them, for I am all too familiar with this “Christian Dilemma”.
But mission has taught me a valuable lesson. One of the most difficult jobs of a missionary is learning to say “goodbye”. I have known many people who dread goodbyes, and many missionaries too, who would rather slip out quietly and disappear. I can understand why one would wish to do so, saying goodbye is hard, and in mission it is extremely hard. Being called by God to serve a people for a time on this earth, we tend to grow rather attached. Pridefully we might tell ourselves that our friends will be lost without us, that the flame will be extinguished. But mostly we lament the end, and wonder if we will ever meet these friends again in this lifetime. I have watched many a missionary leaving their mission, and I have noticed something very profound. Those who slip out quietly without a “goodbye” are not much missed by the people. Sure, people will ask after them, maybe even shed some tears…but, being robbed of their “goodbye”, the memory of their presence is lessened, and perhaps the fruits of their labors are also. But those missionaries, who amidst tears and pangs of sadness, say goodbye, make a lasting impression in the hearts of the people whom they served, and perhaps what is more, bear a fruit that perdures to eternity. Why? How can the final moments of our ministry or mission matter so much? What is it about our breaking hearts that God loves so much? Why does He use our weakness to reveal His perfect strength (2 Cor 12:9)? It was as Christ’s body was broken on the cross that the centurion knew his God (Mt. 27:54). It was in the Breaking of the Bread that the disciples in Emmaus recognized their Savior (Lk 24:30&f). Christ tells us that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies…” there is no wheat, no fruit (Jn 12:24). Goodbyes are so important because they break our hearts. For our mission to be effective, we must allow our hearts to be broken for the people we serve.
It would be easy to continue on in ministry, and never let my heart be broken. I could still serve others, I could preach with eloquence and grace, I could even preach the TRUTH. But, my preaching would have no effect, my service would be futile. If God is calling us to slow down, be present, enter into the deep places, the dark places, to give our hearts, then we must learn to say goodbye. We must die, we must break, we must, with Paul, “resolve to know nothing but Christ Jesus, and Him Crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The problem is, that even as I minister to our teens, I am not living as though today could be our goodbye. As I preach about Christ and His Church, as I listen to their struggles, as I respond to their text messages and phone calls, even their late night phone calls, I am assuming that I will still see them tomorrow, that I will have ample time to give them my heart. I am not ministering my goodbye. The problem is, that as I share with my Christian brothers and sisters in some moments of need, they are not letting their hearts be broken, they are not living their goodbye. Perhaps many of us have forgotten that we are promised nothing, that tomorrow is not guaranteed. It is an easy thing to forget, but we must remember, we must awaken, we must say goodbye!
A few years ago, as my mission in Cordoba, Spain was coming to a close, this living of goodbye took a deep hold in my heart. The Church in Spain, like in much of Europe, is very much suffering from an arrogant indifference. Our two years of mission to this people had been difficult, painful, and seemingly fruitless. Yet, we had grown to love our Spanish brethren, and the thought of leaving, perhaps forever, was shattering my heart. I found myself tempted not to say goodbye, to leave them with the thought that we might soon be back. But I had seen other missionaries do the same, and I knew that I couldn’t cheat my friends of my broken heart. Those were tear-filled days, and even now my eyes well up as I recall our parting. But each of us, with our whole hearts, entered deeply into our goodbyes. We visited friends, we told stories, we gave our last words of encouragement, we spoke of Christ and of our HOPE. It has been incredible for me, looking on from a distance, to see all that God has done with our friends in Cordoba since our leaving, fruits that we never could have hoped for have come out of our “yes” in that place, but even more so, fruits that have come out of our breaking, dying, goodbye. I wish I could say that I was always mindful that our mission in Cordoba would end, or that I am always mindful that our ministry to teens here in the States will soon be over, but sadly I often forget. Christ is calling me to remember, awaken! We left Spain when God called us out, we will leave our ministry here when God says it is time, and one day soon, He will call us away, home to Him. If I am ever to give what He has asked and commissioned me to do, then I must give a broken heart, and remember that today I must say, “goodbye.”
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