The Harder Art of Ending
This is the manuscript from a brief address I gave at the Vespers service the night before my graduation from Moody Bible Institute. I’ve finished my college career, and now ahead of me lies graduate school, ministry, and even authorship. These were my parting words for the place and people I so dearly love.
Tonight I have been asked to do the impossible, and I’m not just referring to limiting myself to six minutes of public speaking. Tonight I have been given the task of saying something meaningful at the end of our time here at Moody Bible Institute, to say something that will not only end this chapter of our lives well, but also cheerfully propel us into whatever is coming next for us.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” In light of this, I have decided to speak tonight, not of our futures, but of what will, in a matter of hours, become our pasts.
The other night I was walking through campus, smelling the blooming trees in the plaza and the faint hint of chocolate in the air, and I realized that with every passing moment the overarching narrative to my life was about to change. For years we have walked these halls, sat in these seats, eaten this food (sometimes to our dismay), studied in these classrooms, and lived in these dorms. And now, it is all over.
It is time to say goodbye.
This, according to Longfellow, is a great art, even greater than starting a new chapter of our lives. I think this is because we are equally prone to two errors in our goodbyes. The first error is to rush so quickly into what lies before us, to skip to the next track on the album of our lives, in such a way that we never actually savor the ending. How many times have I said in the last two weeks, “I can’t wait to get out of this place”? In the midst of a flurry of finals, a peppering of papers, and a ton of tests, it is easy for this to be the case.
The second error is to never actually say goodbye, and to forever live in the past, reliving our college days long after they’re gone. Twenty years pass and we insist on wearing faded floor shirts. We tell our children to come down from their rooms and help mom in the SDR—that is, the kitchen. We tell our spouses that we’re going to get the mail out of our CPO’s. Or, less humorously, and far more likely, we leave here, and with the wonders of communication technology, we forego new friendships and only maintain those relationships we’ve made here via Skype and Facebook and email.
Saying goodbye is hard—it is a fascinating mixture of sadness and excitement, grief and exhilaration. It is much like the feeling I get at the end of a very good book—only far more intense in its experience. Filled with a sense of accomplishment, and often compelled what is coming next, I want to turn the final pages and discover what lies at the book’s ending. Yet at the same time, I am saddened and sometimes even anxious—I do not want to leave these characters, these stories, these memories behind.
I often wonder if saying goodbye is so hard because it is an invitation to trust. The Scriptures are clear that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Perhaps saying farewell is an invitation from God Himself to trust that the next dwelling place and boundary He has allotted for us will come with new blessings and friendships and memories and joys, as did the last. Perhaps it is also an invitation to trust because we do not know the hardships, the struggles, and the toils that we are yet to face, but we can trust that God has allotted those to us, too.
So tonight, we say goodbye, we go our way, and strange lands soon we’ll greet. We will leave here and go to jungles and churches, classrooms and counseling centers, media ministries and missions fields. Others will go to businesses and bureaus, cafes and customers. Regardless of what lies before us, we will depart tomorrow and do what it is we have been trained to do, and I am not necessarily referring to our majors and disciplines of study. Because at the end of the day, our training has been this: to love God and to love people. So we will go and love and serve and care and help—in whatever context to which Christ has called us.
But before you run off on the-rest-of-your-life, I invite you to say goodbye, to this place and to these people. Bid your favorite red-cushioned chapel seat farewell, have a parting thought for the jerky elevators in Sweeting, realize tonight that you don’t have to wear an ID at all times anymore. Say farewell to roommates and floor mates. Say so-long to co-workers and counselors. Say goodbye to professors and teachers. Give hugs, receive hugs. Shed a tear. Laugh a little. Accept God’s invitation to trust and practice the harder art of ending: say “goodbye.” Don’t promise to keep in touch and use it to abort from the moment—say goodbye, for now.
Ah yes, “Goodbye—for now.” It is a peculiar privilege of the people of God that we never actually have to say “goodbye” forever. For we will, all of us, one day be reunited before the throne of the King of the Universe. And after we’ve spent the first ten thousand years on our faces before Him, we may have some time to run into each other in the New Heavens and the New Earth. So, say goodbye, or perhaps, “see you later,” for as the song we’ve sung declares,
Glory over yonder, over yonder,
When Jesus comes in glory we shall part no more.
See you later, friends.