By Melody Shobe
I recently left a church I love. Not for any sensationalist reason, but for the simple fact that God was calling me elsewhere and it was time for me to go. The fact that I left for the right reason didn’t make it any easier. It was a church that felt like my church, and a group of people who had quickly become my people. Nothing about leaving was easy, and the hardest part of the whole thing was having to say goodbye.
Because goodbyes are uncomfortable. They generally entail a lot of fuss and attention. There are goodbye lunches and final conversations. There is the inevitable “well, I might not see you again, so I just wanted to say…” There are the cards that you receive and the cards that you write. And, for a priest, there is the last Sunday that you stand in a pulpit and address a congregation as your people.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to try to say in one conversation or one card or one newsletter article all the things that you want to say to people who mean a lot to you. And to attempt and say it from a pulpit while holding tears at bay is even worse. It is one of those messy emotional situations where words fail and you walk a fine line between composure and breakdown. There was a big part of me that wanted to skip the goodbye all together. To talk about it as little as possible. To pretend it wasn’t happening. To sneak out the backdoor while no one was looking.
I thought honestly about doing just that. But, first of all, I knew that my church wouldn’t let me get away with it. And secondly, I knew that it was not what God was calling me to do. Because, if you read the gospels, you quickly learn that Jesus thought goodbyes were important. He took a lot of time to say goodbye to the disciples, his dearest friends, in the right way. In fact, Jesus started saying goodbye almost from the beginning. Trying to tell them where he was going, and why he had to go. Trying to make sure that he taught them everything that he could before he left. Trying to be clear so that when he was gone, they would know that he still loved them.
Saying goodbye isn’t easy. It is one of the hardest and messiest parts of being in relationship with other people. It comes with a lot of sadness and pain and uncertainty. But it is also a part of our spiritual journey; a part of the life that God calls us to live. We have to honor the relationships that we have by taking the time to say goodbye well, by making sure that we don’t just sneak out the backdoor to make it easier on ourselves. How you leave a place, how you say goodbye, is sometimes even more important than a first impression. So we have to make sure to say goodbye well, even if it is through tears.
The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.