On Saying Goodbye
We’re delighted to have Shelby Jones join us as our guest blogger today. She shares with us insight, prompted by an unexpected source, on saying goodbye to those special people that have deeply impacted us in some way. We know you’ll enjoy her honest look at how we might nurture and honor these often difficult but important moments in our lives.
A few months ago, while sitting on a park bench, my normally energetic, spirited 2-year-old son gently leaned his head against my arm and miraculously sat there for what felt like a lifetime. I started thinking about all the things I love about my son and how proud and happy I am to be his mom. Turning to him I asked, “Buddy, what is your favorite thing about yourself?” I expected him to say something that would epitomize the wild and free little boy that I’ve grown to know and love… something about how “fast” he can run or how high he can jump or how silly or brave he is. Something like that. What I heard caught me off guard and made me consider my own self in a whole new way. When I asked my son what he loved most about himself, without hesitation, he enthusiastically said, “My friends!!!”
It makes my eyes well up just thinking about that moment with him. His friends. That’s what he loves most about himself. At such a young age, my son still sees the people around him as so much a part of himself that he would use them to describe himself. Have you ever thought about your friends in that way?
Who our friends are matters and it says something about who we are. But somewhere between age 2 and “adult,” have we lost that truth in the shuffle of comparison, competition, and avoiding discomfort? Has self-preservation kept us from seeing others as a part of us, and us a part of them?
Needless to say, my son loves his friends. Most mornings, the first words out of his mouth are the names of his best buddies and, “Mama, can we go to ‘so-in-so’s’ house today?” For this reason, it has come as a bit of shock to me how recently he’s begun pushing his friends away when it’s time to say goodbye. One minute he’s affectionate, playful and inclusive and the next minute he’s yelling, retreating to another room, giving the cold shoulder, or even physically pushing said friend away when they come in for a goodbye hug or a high-five.
It’s hard to know exactly what’s going through my son’s precious little heart and mind when all of this unfolds, but I have a hunch it has something to do with feelings of disappointment, fear, anger, grief, and loneliness. Take all of these feelings and wrap them up in a lump of confusion with love, joy and belonging and you’ve got one unsettled toddler.
All that said, I feel his pain, you know? He’s not alone in this. My son is three now, and I can’t help but notice that he’s starting to respond in the same way that so many of us adults have learned to respond over time. Goodbyes are uncomfortable, and though we may not yell or physically push someone away when it’s time to let go (ok, even this can happen sometimes, let’s be honest), we can certainly handle this discomfort in more subtle, yet equally dysfunctional ways.
So what did I tell my son? Why are goodbyes so important?
I began reflecting on the many times I’ve had to say goodbye and what it felt like when that goodbye was life-giving or when it was painful, ending in miscommunication, hurt feelings, or at worst, a broken relationship.
I wanted my son to grasp that so much of our character depends on how we carry ourselves when situations are uncomfortable. Even in a strained relationship, goodbyes are an invitation to reflect, show respect, and uphold. And in our most important relationships, goodbyes are an opportunity to show our friends how much they mean to us, to leave them with as much welcome in our hearts as when they came, even if it hurts when they (or we) must go.
So, in words I hoped he could understand, I told my son that goodbyes are not something to hold lightly or rush through, but something to nurture in our lives. How we begin is certainly important, but how we end… critical. While goodbyes inevitably bring us to the point of letting go of something or someone, goodbyes are an invitation to press in, not push away. To run towards, not retreat. To honor and value, not hold with disdain.
As women and as leaders, there are so many opportunities for goodbyes, whether in our families, our friendships, our workplaces, our careers, our followers, our lived communities, our faith communities. Goodbyes are a central part of our lives as much as our hellos. And yet we spend much more time perfecting our hellos than we do in nurturing our goodbyes. Sometimes it’s easier to look ahead than to look behind or look within. This isn’t always a bad thing. However, the invitation a goodbye provides is not just in what lies on the horizon but in richening our understanding of where we came from and what we hold dear.
God may be leading you into a new season, whether that be in your career, your ministry, your family, your physical location, or your friendships. Equally, in this new season, God may be asking you to let go of some things, or even some relationships. It’s inevitable that our lives will be flooded with countless hellos and goodbyes. But in the letting go, stop. Slow down. Don’t confuse your discomfort as a green light to run. Saying goodbye is not the same thing as dropping. Letting go is not the same as giving up. It’s a living, breathing action that has the power to move you and another party further towards God’s will and God’s arms.
Be careful not to let what you once loved or who you once loved slip away from your heart prematurely before you’ve honored what it was or who they were in your life. Offer grace for those unsettling moments of miscommunication (or lack of communication). Extend mercy when the other party processes the goodbye in a different way or at a different pace. Take the time to honor the relationships you’ve had that have changed you. And remember, even when you can’t hold on, you can always hold dear.
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
John 13:1 NIV
Shelby holds a Masters degree in Social Work and has worked in the field of Child Welfare for ten years. She lives in Fair Oaks, CA with her husband, her 3-year-old son, and one on the way. She is currently enjoying a break from working full time to support her family and to explore her love of writing and speaking.
If you’d like to get in touch with Shelby, feel free to use our contact page and we’ll make sure she gets your message.
Thanks for sharing such an insightful post. Your comment, “How we begin is certainly important, but how we end… critical.” is so very, very true. Having just moved through a difficult transition that involved many painful “goodbyes” on so many levels, finishing well by honoring the relationships developed along the way was crucial. I’m so thankful for God’s Spirit who provides us with the strength, wisdom, and grace, to leave a love shaped stamp on the hearts of those we’ve shared life with, especially as leaders.
I agree, Bethany. I know your good-bye. Your words are so true!
Lovely to have friends to affirm and validate. Thank you Susan!
Thanks you Bethany! Yes, God does provide for us doesn’t he, even when (or especially when) those situations or relationships are difficult for us. He provides a way. Thank you for your comment. I’m so glad it encouraged you in your current season.
Thank you,Shelby. This statement resonates with me so much, I think I’ll have to make it into a meme!
“And remember, even when you can’t hold on, you can always hold dear.”
Thanks Ruth. If it helps you in any way, feel free to spread it along. I,too, find that short, memorable statements and/or mantras can help so much when we face difficult seasons in our life. It can center us and keep us focused on our purpose and God’s greater plan. I’m glad you found something in my post to hold on to that encouraged you. Blessings!
Thank you, Shelby. May I post my meme on Facebook once I’ve created it?
Thank you so much for asking! I checked with Voice of Courage, and they said that they would be happy for you to post the quote (as would I), but ask that you credit the source with my name and the link to the blog post. I’m honored that you found the quote helpful and encouraging and hope it is the same for many other people. Thank you again!
Nicely said Shelby. Love you!
Thank you for taking the time to read it Heidi!
Shelby, this is beautiful. I needed to read this today. Thanks for your balanced advice, particularly this line: “Be careful not to let what you once loved or who you once loved slip away from your heart prematurely before you’ve honored what it was or who they were in your life.”
Thank you so much for reading! I’m so glad that it encouraged and spoke to you when you needed it.