Most of us live our lives right there, between the end of one thing and the beginning of something else. What happens is that we have to let go of something so that we’re ready when something else comes along.
This saying goodbye and saying hello, as it turns out, is critically important spiritual work.
You can’t embrace – and I mean truly, profoundly, tenderly embrace – something new, until you’ve done a pretty thorough job of letting go of the old. And holding on to something old, even if it seems as though there’s a good reason to do it, sometimes makes the start of something new much harder.
A man who had remarried shortly after the death of his first wife – too soon, some said – came to see me one day in my office. He said, “It’s going okay, and I love Marie, but I now realize that it was too soon. I should have waited. I’m not ready to take the pictures down from the walls.”
And those pictures, of course, were of his first wife.
I didn’t understand exactly what he meant at the time, but now I’m beginning to. I’ve been spending the last few weeks taking the pictures down from the walls.
I took a short break – a sabbatical, really – between the end of one ministry and the beginning of another. I said goodbye in November to a congregation I loved and cared for and gave myself to, and now in just days I will say hello to a new congregation.
Early in my ministry a mentor said, “Do your grieving before you arrive.” Which, as it turned out, was exactly right, but I now realize it’s hard work, as hard as anything I’ve ever done.
I can report this much: I’ve spent a lot of time getting ready for this next thing in my life, this move to another country. The degree of difficulty for a move like this, even one as exciting as this, is far higher than I would have imagined.
And so is the level of stress.
As I write this, most of what I own, most of what I’ve spent a lifetime accumulating, is sitting inside a shipping container at the port in Antwerp, Belgium. I assume I’ll be reunited with all of it in a couple of weeks, but I have no assurances. When I waved goodbye to it, I realized that I might never see it – any of it – again.
And that was one of the first lessons I learned – the first picture, in a way, to come off the wall. And each day there have been other lessons, just as hard.
My mentor was right, but I’ll add something more: Don’t hurry it along. After all, it’s in between the old thing and the new thing that we discover who we are and what really matters.