This past week has been a time of saying good-bye as a family moves away. I must admit that saying good-bye is never easy to do. It is painful. You become close to someone, and then separation comes. It may be a move, and even worse, it may be death. So what are we supposed to do?
Paul models an answer for us:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:7–8 (ESV)
Note the intimate language that Paul uses to describe their relationship. His gentleness among them was like a nursing mother caring for her own children. He has great affection for them. They were “very dear” to Paul. Paul speaks of sharing “our own selves” as well as the gospel. All of this speaks of a close relationship. Yet, Paul went into Thessalonica as an itinerant preacher. A departure would come, and in the case of Thessalonica, it came sooner than Paul wanted. After an uproar in the city and a security deposit to the officials, Paul is sent away by night. We read of his eagerness to return, and his urgency to receive word about them. Yet I don’t think Paul ever backed off from sharing his own self with people. He invested in people even when there were good-byes to come.
I think there are two Christian answers to this pain of parting. These answers explain why we should invest ourselves in others despite the pain departures bring. The first is the providence of God. In what some may consider “the boring bits” of Paul’s letters, we find many, many names of people important to Paul. Paul had Christian friends around the Roman world. If he departed from some or they departed from him, God had a wonderful way of bringing new people into his life.
New people in our lives doesn’t mean that people are interchangeable parts. If we think about particular persons who are absent, we will miss them. Each person plays a unique role in our lives, but our lives are enriched by each person with whom we share our very selves.
The second answer is the resurrection. There are no lasting good-byes among Christians. Heaven will be the great reunion. We certainly morn our losses, but we do so in hope.
Despite the pain of departures, I suspect that sharing of our own selves will be part of the treasure we find awaiting us in heaven.