When I came home from the office last Thursday evening, she was gone. Just like that. Our youngest daughter spent the last few weeks sorting through her possessions: pitching, storing, reminiscing, and packing. I tried to be helpful, but no one can do that kind of work for you. She plotted out her journey across the country to her new job and city, got her car checked out, and drove off to the rest of her life.
I’ve never had a problem being an empty-nester. Gary and I did the best we could to raise our children to be responsible young adults, people of faith, and good global citizens. We experienced just about every crisis imaginable with our children, slogging through their teenage and college years with a stiff upper lip, buckets of tears, and hope beyond hope. Gary and I are grateful for their uniqueness, character, and their desire to make a positive difference in the world.
We have enjoyed our freedom over the last 6 years to come and go without worrying about school age children at home. Yet this time was different. Walking into an empty house because Gary was gone overnight, my senses were on overload. A pile of clothes that didn’t fit in the car and will have to be sent, boots lined up neatly in her room, favorite stuffed animals on the bed, a few dozen boxes in the basement filled with books, kitchen items, photo albums, and stuff. Is she really gone for good? Maybe the best definition of “home” is “a place where you can always keep your stuff for free until you need it.”
I was most curious about our 3 cats. Whenever our daughter is home, they spend the day lying on her bed just to be near her. She is the ultimate cat-lover and has always given them way more attention than I ever could. I wondered how long it would take the cats to realize that she is gone for good. Evidently not long. The next morning the cats stayed close to me, yet while I was running a few errands, one of the cats threw up big time on the newly cleaned family room carpet. I took it as a group expression of anger and disdain. No doubt they were thinking, “If someone had to leave, why couldn’t it have been you instead of Tallie?”
Perhaps my hypersensitivity to my daughter’s leave-taking is related to the fact that at this time of year I am highly attuned to the comings and goings that accompany the appointment process in The United Methodist Church. I used to think that lay persons could not identify with the pervasive low level anxiety that pastors feel when January rolls around. After all, United Methodist pastors are appointed one year at a time. Every pastor is fair game for a move every year and is automatically suspicious when the phone rings and they hear the voice of their superintendent.
With the upheaval in our economy in recent years, however, millions of workers live in constant fear that every day might be their last on the job. Learning how to live fully in the midst of uncertainty is an art. At least pastors who are elders are guaranteed an appointment, so they will not be without a job. But they may well be uprooted, snatched away from a church and people they love because their gifts are needed elsewhere in the connection. The truth is that most moves are initiated by either the pastor or the church. There are times, though, when the Bishop and cabinet discern that God is calling them to appoint a pastor to a particular church for missional reasons when they have not requested a move.
Whenever we encounter transitions in our lives, whether it is a death, a new job, or a leave-taking, how can we move through change gracefully?
- Acknowledge loss.
Change almost always involves loss. Even in the midst of the excitement and anticipation of new beginnings, there is loss: loss of relationships, loss of familiarity, even loss of confidence. Pastors have told me that they didn’t sleep all night after receiving a call about a new appointment. I’ve been there myself. When we choose to invest ourselves deeply in others, there is inevitable pain when we have to say good-bye, whether we are the one moving or staying. When wrestling with loss leads us to embrace a wide range of feelings rather than block out the truth of what lies in our hearts, we are led to a better understanding of self, God, and life.
- Embrace others.
Others want to be there for you in times of loss and transition, but they are not often aware of your struggles unless you take the initiative. Rely on your network of friends, family, spiritual director, and small group members for support. God has made us for each other.
- Be willing to let go.
Jesus was constantly on the move and had no place to lay his head. Yet he still chose to develop friendships and love intensely even though it was always difficult to say good-bye. Jesus, too, felt the pain of loss but risked letting go and moving into God’s vision for him. When we are willing to surrender our will and desires and allow God to be our guide by day and by night, we experience a peace that passes all understanding. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1b-2
- Be open to new growth and surprise.
Just as a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, yet bears much fruit, so new growth comes when endings flow smoothly into new beginnings. We will always carry with us the joy of those we have come to love so dearly, but when our hearts are open, God will surprise us with new people to love, new adventures to challenges us, and new ways of living out our call.
- Recognize that God journeys with you.
Sometimes we forget that our home is not our house, our family, or our friends. Nor is the church our home. Our home is in God alone. Therefore, wherever we are going, God goes before us to prepare the way. “The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too,” said Teresa of Avila.
Our lives are a sacred adventure where we are being made into the image of Christ through the Holy Spirit to do God’s work in the world. What do you most want to take with you on your adventure through life? Tallie had to do a lot of sifting and sorting before she was ready to move. She had to let go of a lot of stuff that she liked but which was not necessary for the journey. And I had to let her go, entrusting her to God’s care and marveling at the adventures that lie ahead for both of us.
What will you pack when God calls you to a new phase in your life? What is most essential for a life of faith where God is continually forming, molding, and shaping you into who you were meant to become? Joy, boldness, attentiveness, courage, heart, trust?
“For those blessed souls who are able to let go, to float free,
a new and mysterious world is revealed.
It is a world more mysterious, more exotic and, initially, more threatening
than the new world Columbus and Magellan stumbled on.”
~ Thomas H. Green When the Well Runs Dry