Who likes saying goodbye? Nobody. The hardest goodbyes are the permanent earthly ones. Holidays are hard, especially for those who have recently grieved the loss of a loved one. As a pastor, I often hear about “the first year” of grief. The first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas provide an unwelcome reminder of who isn’t here anymore. Death is a long goodbye and we humans don’t like saying goodbye.
God Be With Ye
What is a goodbye? We typically use it when we are parting with someone. Goodbye! With a wave or a handshake or hug, we say goodbye. The word goodbye itself has something to say to us. It comes from the 16th century when people would say at a parting, God be with ye. Say that fast and the semantic mashup becomes obvious. God be with ye. Godbewithye. Now it’s just one word for us, goodbye.
While we don’t think too theologically when we say the word, perhaps we should. God be with you is acknowledging that from now on, I’m not with you. Goodbyes are the end of relational presence and being physically together. When we are physically present we are able to watch over each other and care for each other. Verbal and non-verbal communication is instantaneous.
To separate is the end of those realities. Who is watching over the other person now? Goodbye. God be with ye. You are now in God’s hands, not mine. May God be with you and watch over you and care for you. Of course, God is far better at caring and providing for loved ones than we can ever be.
Sorrow and the Intensity of Love
As trustworthy as God is, we still hate goodbyes. Have you ever considered the goodbye sorrow as itself an indication of love? Might grief serve as a powerful compliment to how important this person and the relationship is to you?
I think of that line from The Hobbit where the Elf Tauriel weeps over the dead body of her lover Kili. She says to her king, “If this is love, I do not want it. Take it away, please! Why does it hurt so much?” The Elf King replies, “Because it was real.” When we grieve we pay an emotional honor to the importance of that relationship. It means your love and relationship was real.
I remember thinking a bit deeper about goodbyes some years ago when I went to South America to see my brother who was serving as a missionary. I had not seen him for some time. The hello was great and the goodbye was hard. I sat in an airport in Bolivia and wrote a note to my church family,
So I said goodbye today. It was strange as the familiar but undesirable emotions filled my heart, then went to my throat in the form of a lump, and found release in my tear ducts. You sometimes wonder if being together warrants the pain of not being together again. Yet we all know it does. But it got me thinking. Why do goodbyes feel this way? Why are they so painful?
Surely God didn’t intend it to be this way. Was there a twinge of hurt when the duties of the Garden took Adam and Eve apart? If the Fall had never happened, would goodbyes be as joyful as hellos? We don’t know. We do know that we hate goodbyes now.
Have you ever considered why you don’t mind saying goodbye in some situations? It would seem that the amount of sorrow we feel in the goodbye is some measure of the love of being together we have in our hearts. In this way, goodbyes are decent love indicators. Since loving each other in family and church relationships is a duty and a calling, we are destined to a lifetime of painful partings.
Would we really want it any other way? To have no sorrow would be to have no love. A life situation more painful than any goodbye could ever be. So as I sit here in the lonely airport, it would seem to me that what we all should strive for is sadness in saying goodbye. For relationships whose separation reveals the preciousness of our time together. In short, for true love with brothers and sisters whether they are biological or spiritual. And in the pain that parting brings to realize the intensity of God’s love and His desire to enjoy true and eternal fellowship with us, a fellowship with Him and with all who love Him that will never again include a goodbye.
God be with ye.