fruitful emptiness: the gift of goodbye

Several years ago, my friend Vanessa recruited me to help her start a youth choir at our church in Vancouver. We were a small group to begin with, just a couple of mediocre guitar players (Vanessa and I) and a handful of really young, nervous kids. We did the best we could; Vanessa and I didn’t know nearly as much about liturgical music as we should have in our position, and the kids were still learning how to find their voices. 

A year after we started, Vanessa left to go on mission, much to my terror, leaving me and my clammy fingers to take the reins. A year after that, I married an American and then subsequently immigrated to the United States. It was a bittersweet goodbye. There was a small amount of guilt, knowing that I was leaving this group of kids to carry on with the ministry on their own. But I also knew that I had a new chapter in my life to write, and my sweet church community celebrated this new beginning for me almost as much as I did for myself.

Fast forward to last Saturday night: I was sitting in the middle of my old church at a concert featuring a recording artist from Malta. There had been an hour and a half of other performances and, while they were entertaining, I was ready to get to the main act. Suddenly, the MC called up my old choir. They were led by one of the nervous kids Vanessa and I used to train. And you know what? They were so impressive, they literally had people on their feet 30 seconds into their first song. And I, predictably, started tearing up.

Sometimes, it’s scary to let go, especially of things that matter to us. We put so much of ourselves into the things we care about – our jobs, our ministries, our spouses, our children. We wonder how any of these could ever go on without us, when they have been so dependent on our help and presence. We feel responsible for them because we care about them; we want to see them fluorish, not to fail. 

But I think that sometimes, the best thing one can do for another is to let go. Walk your journey, even if it takes you down a different road, and let them walk their own. By lingering where we ought to take flight, we could be casting our shadow on the very seeds we sow. But by saying goodbye, we could be giving those we love the room, the air, the light they need to be what they were meant to be. 

My old church community was a huge part of my move into Washington state. This was a church who attended and celebrated my wedding ceremony, played the music I composed as I walked down the aisle, and paid me to give them voice lessons to help me pay for my staggering immigration fees. There was nothing in it for them, and not for one second did any of them cause me to think twice about my choice to move out of the country. Nobody tried to make me feel guilty about leaving the youth choir that I led, or the RCIA communty where I served, or the prison ministry that I loved. They were all rooting for me to go because they knew that my whole heart lay ahead of me across the border. Because of this, I will always be indebted to them for helping me to begin the life that I now live. They blessed me immensely by saying goodbye, and saying it with love.

So as I sat there on Saturday night, blubbering (as usual), I reveled in the mercy of God. I have never been able to say thank you to this church community for everything they have done for me. But the crowd on its feet was proof that by saying goodbye, I had played my part in allowing these young people to become who they were meant to be. And my husband’s hand in mine is proof that by letting me go, they had played their part in allowing me to become who I am meant to be. 

This is the gift of goodbye.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

– John 14:12

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