Memorial Day 2023 will be dawning soon and American hearts and minds will be turning once again to those millions of brave men and women to whom we’ve had to say goodbye. We’ll think about those who had to say goodbye to the future they planned before their bodies were wounded and broken. Saying goodbye is hard, but it’s important, and there are lessons woven into the process that are worth contemplating as we seek to honor those who gave so much. For me, learning some of the lessons in saying goodbye began years ago near a little town in rural Alaska.
A Final Farewell ~
Celebrating Memorial Day couldn’t have been farther from my mind as I stood on a gravel runway preparing to leave Alaska years ago, but it comes to mind now as I remember that day. I was surrounded by people with whom my wife and I had lived, worked, and served the Lord for several years. It was a bittersweet moment, to say the least. Soon we’d be thousands of miles apart and since outside communication in that region back then was expensive and unpredictable, further contact would be a hit-or-miss kind of thing at best. All of us knew that once I climbed aboard the little bush plane and the pilot closed the door, it would very likely be the last time we would see one another in this life.
It was an emotionally and spiritually challenging time, and I was trying to lighten the moment by talking about keeping in touch and maybe getting to come back again someday. In the midst of all that, something one of my native friends said came flooding into my mind. In another gathering, he had caught my eye, looked at me intently, and said, “One of the problems you ‘lower 48’ people have is that you don’t know how to say ‘Goodbye.’ You always seem determined to call it something else. You try to mask the hurt inside by telling lies to each other. You substitute ‘goodbye’ with things like, ‘So long for now,’ or ‘See ya later,’ or ‘Catch you on the rebound,’ or quoting Sylvester Stallone’s famous line from the Terminator movie, ‘I’ll be back …’ ”
An Uncomfortable Realization ~
Recalling my friend’s comment was unexpected and instantly sobering. I didn’t want him to be right, but I knew that he was. The departure that day was definitely not going to be a “See you later” event, but saying “goodbye” out loud brought a disturbing sense of finality with it. Goodbyes are painful, and that isn’t a new thing. Luke affirms that in his account of a “goodbye event” involving the Apostle Paul:
And when he [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship. (Acts 20:36–38 NKJV)
In spite of the grief that often accompanies it, there seems to be something spiritually rich in confronting a painful goodbye head-on. The word seems almost insignificant on the surface, but accepting a final goodbye for what it really means changes things. Goodbye draws a line of demarcation between the past and the future and changes the perspective on both. That change in perspective and focus was apparent even in my departure from that village years ago.
Changing Perspectives ~
Openly recognizing that our goodbyes were likely to be permanent affected the focus of our interaction with each other. Instead of indulging in feel-good fantasies about staying in touch and getting back together again, we began to look over our shoulder and consider what our relationship had meant to each other. Our thoughts went toward the work we had accomplished and the ways God had revealed Himself through each of us. The tears of sadness began to be mingled with joy as we reviewed the battles we fought, the victories we shared, and the fruit that would remain. It was the kind of shift in perspective illustrated by the widows Peter encountered in Joppa. Their friend was gone, but they found comfort in celebrating the things she had left behind:
Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them. (Acts 9:39 NKJV)
When people are taken away from us and we’re forced to look at the relationship in past tense, it has positive potential. As painful as it is, a final goodbye invites us to explore more carefully and embrace more fully all those things that can’t be taken away. It can also unveil one of love’s most miraculous qualities. A final goodbye can allow us to discover that love isn’t shackled to our sensory apparatus. Though we can no longer touch or see them, the love continues. We can go on loving them without hesitation, without reservation, and without limitation. God described the kind of “goodbye proof” quality of the love He ordains like this:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35 NKJV)
No Shock to God ~
Final departures force us to close some doors, but they open others. We have to see our future then in a new context. Regardless of how wonderful the yesterdays we shared may have been, our tomorrows won’t include them. The obstacles may seem insurmountable, but God is neither shocked nor disabled because of the change. His will for our lives was never dependent on any single relationship other than the one we have with His Son. All of our relationships have a molding and shaping effect on us to some degree, but God has always been the ultimate sculptor, and He will continue to be.
Final goodbyes are often unwelcome and forced on us by circumstances we can’t control, but there are times when we need to purposely insert one. Not surprisingly, our fallen, rebellious nature leads us toward sabotaging God’s intent in both directions. We tend to insert goodbyes where they don’t belong and refuse to apply them in situations where they’re needed. For instance, toxic lifestyles, forbidden relationships, and destructive compulsions are allowed to hang on and systematically torture us because we refuse to say goodbye to them.
More Goodbyes Are Needed ~
Refusing to part company with many of the narcissistic attitudes, sinful proclivities, and repulsive practices permeating today’s godless culture has had a corrupting and debilitating effect on the overall influence of Christianity in America. Many see the collective church to be little more than a divided, sectarian mess, a relic of bygone days with no unified voice, no consistent moral authority, and no power to effect change. Paul said it’s time to insert some strategic goodbyes to those promoters of spiritually toxic ideas:
Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. (2 Corinthians 6:17 NKJV)
So, as we prepare to honor those who sacrificed so much to defend and protect us, and as we remember all those painful goodbyes that we’ve had to endure, there’s one more we need to add. Paul alludes to it like this:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)
All of us who confessed our sins and surrendered our lives to Jesus were experiencing a goodbye event. God drew a line of demarcation and declared that the “old man” (or woman) we used to be died with Jesus on that cross, and a new version of us was born.
Here’s a suggestion . . . As we celebrate Memorial Day and acknowledge the goodbyes that both our nation and we as individuals have had to endure, how about saying goodbye once again to the person we used to be and to the sins Jesus died to free us from? And then remind ourselves again that God always intended that separation to be a permanent one.
Happy Memorial Day 2023
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “A final goodbye can allow us to discover that love isn’t shackled to our sensory apparatus. Though we can no longer touch or see them, the love continues. We can go on loving them without hesitation, without reservation, and without limitation.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Regardless of how wonderful the yesterdays we shared may have been, our tomorrows won’t include them. All of our relationships have a molding and shaping effect on us to some degree, but God has always been the ultimate sculptor, and He will continue to be.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet) j
- Final goodbyes are often unwelcome, but there are times we need to insert one purposely. Toxic lifestyles, forbidden relationships, and destructive compulsions are allowed to hang on and systematically torture us because we refuse to say goodbye.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Refusing to part company with many of the narcissistic attitudes, sinful proclivities, and repulsive practices permeating today’s godless culture has had a corrupting and debilitating effect on the overall influence of Christianity in America.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Many see the collective church to be little more than a divided, sectarian mess, a relic of bygone days w/no unified voice, consistent moral authority or power to effect change. Paul said it’s time to insert some goodbyes to promoters of spiritually toxic ideas.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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© 2023 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
Some goodbyes are more difficult than others, I think. Taking my dad’s hand the morning I was leaving to head back to Texas and leaving him in FL was difficult but filled with joy. My wife and I had nursed him back to health enough that he could resume his life in his beloved home and community. While I knew I would miss those morning talks, longer and longer hugs, and my travel buddy, there was a sense of satisfaction in a job well done. That goodbye was very different than the one we shared a few years later when he could only listen to me on the telephone as I told him to say “Hey to Mom” for me. I knew he would be seeing her and Jesus soon.
I thought too of the goodbyes you eluded to in your opening. A smile or nod of the head said all that needed to be said between two soldiers, two brothers-in-arms. Had we realized the permanence of them, perhaps more would have been shared. If the world realized the permanence of them, perhaps there would be less wars.
The goodbyes you end with though are perhaps the most important and, sadly for some, the most difficult. Saying goodbye to your former self can be most difficult. It shouldn’t, we’ve been set free from the tyranny of sin that we were born into. We’ve been “Born Again”, adopted into the family of God. So why is it so difficult to say goodbye to all that sin? Something I’ve contemplated for many years my friend, and the only answer that I’ve been able to come up with that I could accept is that “some take longer to die than others.” When I was saved as a late teen, I knew for sure and for certain that I became an heir with Jesus on that evening. I knew for sure and for certain that my sins were washed away by His blood and that I was freed from the death penalty of sin that awaited me at the end of time. What I didn’t know is that the roots of sin were so intertwined in my soul that some would take many years of prayer, confession, repentance, and failed attempts at rooting out before I would be free from them. I think about Philippians 2:12, how we must each work out our own salvation, and I wonder if part of that means that we must find our path to let God do His work of salvation in us. I liken my salvation to a body shop of sorts. Some repairs are instant. A few scratches, buff them out with polishing compound and you’re good to go. Other times, you have to take it right down the metal (or plastic these days), feather the area, and re-paint. A dent, well depending upon its severity a few well-placed blows with a hammer and dolly and “dent’s all gone.” Other times, surgery such as replacing the fender or straightening the frame is required.
What I’ve learned in my own life, and I think everyone’s journey through sanctification, one that we’re on until we die, or are raptured (hey, I can be hopeful can’t I?), is that, for some, dying to self is achieved in stages. It becomes of a case of applying the words of John 3:30 to our lives. The “I”, our carnal human spirit, must decrease so that the “He”, the Holy Spirit that now dwells within us, can increase. As your post last week pointed out, we must always ADD to our lives, and for us to make room to add more of Christ’s character to our lives, we must make more room for Him. That requires us to SUBTRACT from our human nature so our spiritual nature can increase. In some things, it can be harder and easier than others, depending on how deeply rooted they are within us.
On my farm, I can cut down nightshade and horned milkweed all day long, but if I don’t pull it out by its root, it always comes back. Other weeds like mesquite or those hated locust trees require herbicide application because they have “runners” underground that spread to other regions, much like cancer cells.
Whether sin or weeds, saying goodbye requires application of the right treatment. God is that right treatment for sin my friend; and His application will always make our goodbyes to self easier.
God’s blessings my friend and thank you so much for honoring those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms. Let us honor their sacrifice by how we live our lives. Let us honor Christ’s sacrifice by saying goodbye to those deeply rooted sins that continue to hold us back from bringing Him the glory He deserves through our surrendered lives.
Wow, Brother… Your words rich in spiritual nourishment this morning. I loved your insightful unfolding of how saying goodbye to the sins that are like landmines on the road ahead is an ongoing process, not just a once-for-all event. I relate so well to the analogies you unfolded and smile at the automatic “Amens!” they triggered this morning. The one about the body shop was really creative and it added enlightening depth to the issue of sanctification as well as bringing back memories of working on my old ’54 Mercury refugee from a local junkyard. I was just a kid with no experience doing body work and had no idea how challenging what seemed to be simple processes, like getting paint to blend well, could be. I’m sure my uncle, who was my mechanical mentor, had lots of reasons to smile as he watched me lose my temper and throw a sanding block while trying to follow his instructions.
And like you wisely indicated, from God’s perspective, deliverance and sanctification is complete and instantaneous in that moment when we honestly confess our sins and place all our faith and hope in Jesus alone. But getting it applied to our day to day lives is a different matter. In a world where deception, seduction, and every kind of temptation imaginable is thrown at us non-stop sanctification is a continual challenge. When I was younger, I thought that older folks were really lucky and should feel relieved. After all, they had gotten to that point in life where they’re too old to do anything that’s really fun, so they don’t have to deal with temptation anymore. Now that I’ve managed to get that stage of life that qualifies me as a genuine human antique, I’ve discovered that I was wrong about all that. It turns out that sometimes saying what I intended to be a final goodbye to some things turns out not to be quite as permanent as I intended it to be.
The good news is that the Holy Spirit of God is relentless in His determination to use our difficult and painful goodbyes to keep on molding and shaping us into the person God had in mind when He gave us life. Not only that, He also keeps on equipping us to be agents of healing, hope, and encouragement in this broken, sin cursed world around us.
Speaking of instruments of hope and encouragement, Mrs. Diane and I want you to know that we are praising God and feeling a deep sense of gratitude for you and the multitudes of your fellow warriors who stepped up and offered yourselves to defend and protect people like us. We haven’t had the privilege of knowing but a relative handful of our courageous protectors personally, but we are celebrating those we have known and do know. You are high on that list and a treasured gift of God not only to us, but to this country, and we love you on both accounts. May the goodbyes you reflect on this Memorial Day be as inspirational and uplifting to you as you have been to us.