The end of one thing, the beginning of something else

Letting go - swingset

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.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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17 Responses to The end of one thing, the beginning of something else

  1. Dee and Juan January 19, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    You nailed it Doug…your experience reflects my life as an expat!! Stay prepared however for the roller coaster ride of emotions you’ll feel as you get to know your new country!!
    All the best on meeting your new congregation….I’m sure they’ll love you!!


    • Doug January 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      I didn’t know you were a reader, Dee! It’s good to hear from, and in case I didn’t say it before, your experience of moving around the world was very helpful to me. I’m glad you shared it. Miss you.

  2. Sandy Steffen January 19, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Wishing you & Susan safe travels and a wonderful new life & adventure Doug!!! We miss you both. Sandy

    • Doug January 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      Thanks, Sandy.

  3. annette yarborough January 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Dave & I want to wish you all the luck in the world, we miss your wonderful sermons, and know the new congregation will be as happy as we were. Looking forward to your blogs…

    • Doug January 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

      Annette, please come and visit! It’s good to hear from you.

  4. Robin Bradley January 19, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    Moving to Tokyo three years ago was one of the most adventurous times in my life. In the beginning, I felt like i was back in middle school trying to make new friends, find my way around and attempting to understand a language not written in English. Today, Tom and I have embraced the culture, food, the people and most importantly love being part of the international expat family. Welcome to the club!

    • Doug January 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Hi, Robin. Good to hear from you. The interim pastor at the church I’m going to was pastor at the Tokyo Union Church for a number of years, and he too loved life in the expat community there. I look forward to blogging about the experience too…without offending my new Swiss friends. We leave Wednesday and can’t wait to get started on the adventure.

  5. mike January 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Hello Doug –

    We’re sad to see you go (but we’re learning to let go) – and happy for you and Susan and
    the wonderful experiences in life and faith that await you in the Switz (as one Kirk SInger calls that part of the world you’re heading off to).

    We’ll one of us in our family is not quite sure about the letting go part. She wondered if she might do a semester abroad (Zurich) if she keeps her grades up. She says she has a bud who’s headed there. I think that’s really cool. You made an impression.


    • Doug January 20, 2014 at 6:32 am #

      Good to hear from you, Mike. Please say hi to Lia.

  6. Barbara Keith January 19, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Reading your message, reminds me how very fortunate our church and its members were to have you as our pastor and friend. You and Susan are already missed in Fort Lauderdale. You know you will always hold a special place in out hearts. We know you will enjoy this new chapter in your life. Don’t forget that you will always be welcome back here.
    Our doors in Fort Lauderdale and/or Cape Cod will always be, open to you both!

    Barb and Tom Keith

  7. Duane Kelderman January 20, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

    Thanks for this thoughtful blog, Doug. This reminds me of some recent discussions I’ve had. Jeannette and I just returned from a week long vacation to Mexico with four other couple friends of ours. We’re all in transition from full-time work to retirement. A couple of insights from our experience: 1. There are many steps in this transition: full time work for both spouses, one spouse retires, the other spouse goes to part time, the other spouse retires. Just those steps can be over a five year period. 2. For these ten Calvinists, the question of vocation and calling is as important in our 60s as it was in our 20s. Our most energized conversations were around what we sense God is calling us to. (EG to practice dentistry in Haiti, to help our kids with their twins and two other small children, to join a national board that . . . ). Put another way, and more succinctly, transitions are thick. Thanks again for a very significant blog! And enjoy the transition!

    • Doug January 21, 2014 at 3:58 am #

      Duane, when I saw the picture of you and your friends in Facebook, my first thought, knowing Calvinists as I do, was, “I’ll bet they had some good conversations.” And I’m glad to know you did. Over the years, whenever Susan and I have gotten together with dear friends from college days, our conversations too inevitably turned to vocation. From young adulthood that’s been the most consistent theme, and if anything the conversations today are more intense today than they were then. So, yes, thick it is. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Georgia Hamilton January 21, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    Doug, Beautifully written. I found myself remembering how it was when Bill died. I wasn’t readly to “take the pictutres off the wall,” tho I couldn’t have expressed it as eloquently as you did. But in time, I’ve found I can leave somethings behind and it doesn’t impair my memories of what we had. I pray it will be the same for you and Susan.

    God bless,
    Georgia Hamilton

    • Doug January 21, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Hi, Georgia. Am deeply touched that you could relate to this feeling. Am glad that you’ve been able to let go without diminishing the memories.

  9. robert sadowski January 27, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    well doug rightly said, but remember after you take the pictures down to spackle the holes.

    • Doug January 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm #


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