Last Thursday our family said “Hello,” to our newest member as Ava Jean Pearring was born. Lots of family showed up at the hospital. Ava was crying when we walked in. Most of us were crying tears of joy at some point in the experience. She reported for duty on the same day pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training. That made me cry, and I’m pretty sure she is an Angels’ fan. My son Tim was crying when his wife, Nicci, who had just delivered their fifth child, quipped, “Labor wasn’t bad…I’m ready to do that again.”
Yesterday I got to say, “Hello,” to my son, Jake and his wife, Gionna who were in from the east coast. They had spent the weekend with Gionna’s folks in Palm Springs, but my daughter, Tricia, who was home for a few weeks from China, and I sliced out a few hours to fly south to see them. We had a great reunion at a breakfast. Gionna’s mother cried when they said, “Good-bye.” We made a quick stop for ice cream, then Tricia and I took Jake and Gionna to the Ontario airport and had to say, “Good-bye” so soon after the hellos. Tricia was crying. She tried to hide it, but I know she was crying because I was crying.
On our drive to the west side, I wanted Tricia to meet Michele, a new team member who had spent some time in China. We spent about twenty minutes saying, “Hello,” and “Good-bye.” Thankfully, there was no crying.
Then Tricia and I hopped back in the car and headed to Santa Monica. We arrived to find my daughter-in-law, Sue, busy with her two-month-old twins. Cole was crying. “Hello!” we whispered, not wanting to wake Jordan. “Wow, they are so big!” Tricia sighed. “They’ve changed so much in just two weeks!’ Sue wondered when she can say, “Good-bye” to the feed—burp—change—try-to-get-them-to-sleep—repeating rhythm that is seemingly her entire life now. “How are you doing, Sue?” “I’m…okay,” she admitted. I suspect she wanted to cry.
Then Jordan started crying and the twins took turns fussing and playing. My son, Scott showed up for a few minutes in between work appointments. “Hello! Hello” he stated as he hugged us. The boys were asleep when we said our good-byes to Scott, but both boys were crying when we said, “Good-bye” to Sue.
Tricia was crying too. Her last few days had been mostly filled with good-byes. She is headed back to her home in China, not sure if she will see her siblings, nieces and nephews before next February and her Chinese New Year break. My wife, Lori and I promise to visit her this Fall. I am holding out hope we can see her this summer—that hope reduces my sadness.
Tricia and I dropped off our rental car at LAX, then boarded the shuttle. We were leaving from different terminals--mine came before hers--and I suddenly realized we were going to have to say our hasty good-byes on a bus. I hugged her, stepped out on to the curb, gathered myself and tried not to cry. Tricia has been flying off to China for ten years now. I’m not sure the good-byes are getting any easier for anybody.
Life is filled with hellos and good-byes. You welcome a baby into your life, and the next thing you know, she’s moving to China.
Ministry is essentially a series of hellos and good-byes as well. People come into your lives, then comes the good-bye.
In his amazing book, “Preaching,” Tim Keller suggests that due to the mobility in our culture, most people will only be in a church for about two years. That’s a lot of coming and going!
The Beatles were on to a major chunk of life: “You say Good-bye and I say Hello.”
So how can we make the most of all these hellos and good-byes? If they don’t get easier, can we at least get better at them?
One of the most tear-jerking passages in the Bible is the Apostle Paul’s interaction with the leaders of the Ephesian church in Acts chapter 20:
When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them. They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.—Acts 20:36-38 (NLT)
The first time I remember encountering these verses was when my college pastor, Jerry, read it to a group of us leaders as he announced he was leaving. He cried through the whole thing, barely getting through the passage.
Paul was crying, but he hadn’t known the Ephesians that long:
Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day...—Acts 20:31
Paul said, “Hello” and then he said, “Good-bye.” Did he leave any clues on how to do this well?
The Apostle’s story leads to at least four suggestions for handling good-byes and hellos well:
1. Make the Meeting
Paul had decided to sail on past Ephesus, for he didn’t want to spend any more time in the province of Asia. He was hurrying to get to Jerusalem, if possible, in time for the Festival of Pentecost. But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.—Acts 20:16-17 (NLT)
Let’s not skip the hellos and good-byes.
Paul could have sailed right on by, and passed on the painful parting. Perhaps that was his original plan. But he decided to set a meeting instead.
It is so much easier to skip the farewell, or not even bother with another hello. Did Ava need me to show up on her birthday? No, not really. But when she is twelve and we recount to her how everyone in the family who lived within driving distance came to the hospital just to welcome her, she’ll be pretty pleased.
Did Tricia and Michele need me to introduce them? Maybe. It was worth the time.
I’ve slithered away from enough farewells and passed up enough introductions to realize it is best to err on the side of making the meeting.
2. Reduce the Regrets
When they arrived he (Paul) declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work… I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus… I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.—Acts 20:19-21 and 26-27 (NLT)
A great way to deal with hellos and good-byes is to make sure what is in between the two is as useful as possible. Paul is pretty clear that he tried to be faithful. As much as he could, he made the most of the time he had with folks.
Tricia and I only had a couple hours with Jake and Gionna. We tried to make them count. I asked the pertinent questions: “When are you having a baby, and when are you moving back closer to me!?” And I also asked, “How can we pray for you?” We only had a couple hours with Scott and Sue and the twins. So we held the boys, I changed a poopy diaper (That is recorded here, I never have to do it again.) and we bought dinner. (Gionna’s folks bought breakfast—thanks!)
Lori and I try to free up our schedule when Tricia is here—it reduces any regrets when she leaves. Making the time we have count helps when it is over.
3. Clarify the Call
“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.—Acts 20:22-24 (NLT)
Parting is such great sorrow—but when you know you really have to go, it’s a bit easier.
Lori and I struggle with our daughter living so far away, but we have peace knowing she senses she is exactly where she wants to be.
Too many people leave, not out of call, but out of dysfunction.
4. Commence the Crying
“You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears.—Acts 20:19 (NLT)
Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.—Acts 20:31 (NLT)
Paul was crying as he told them about how much crying he’d done while he was with them. Crying is simply a part of life and ministry.
That famous verse that is easy to memorize, also packs a point: “Jesus wept.”—John 11:35 (NIV)
Plan on crying. Deal with it. Crying is a part of life, it’s a part of family, it’s a part of ministry. And it’s a part of baseball too. Those who really think there’s no crying in baseball are obviously not Angel fans.
The good news is there will come a day when we don’t have to cry anymore:
God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”—Revelation 21:3-4 (NLT)
Until then, expect hellos, expect good-byes. And expect some tears.