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About 150 years ago, my internship supervisor handed me a little book called Running through the Thistles. I was coming to the end of my internship, having loved, laughed and ministered with the congregation for a year. I have remembered that book for all these years.
The book (which is still available on Amazon!) ought to be required reading for life, although it is aimed at pastors who are leaving churches. The author, Roy Oswald, uses an experience of his childhood as a sort of parable for effectively saying good bye to (in this case) a congregation. Over the years, I have internalized this parable and so the retelling here is mine (I did just re-read the book, I am pretty far off from the original!).
There was a boy who, in order to get home from school, could go the long way around a thistle field or the short way — straight through it. Of course, the short way was the short way! It meant getting home faster to the cookies that were awaiting. But, the short way also meant that on the other side of the thistle field there were thistles to pull out, painful prickers that were hard to extract. More often than not, the boy would run headlong through the thistles, spending painful minutes afterward pulling out those thistles.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21
You see, many of us want to leave places in a hurry — running through the metaphorical thistle patch. It is faster and seemingly less painful than taking the long road of saying goodbye. The problem is all those emotional prickers that are left in our skin. We find ourselves pulling them out for months and maybe even years to come.
Saying goodbye well is a craft: part art and part science. It takes time. It takes intentionality. But notice, we call it a good-bye. Yes, to be a good-bye — and not just a “bye” — we take our time. We acknowledge emotions and love and hurt; we make space for the relationships that have meant so much to us.
Of course, I am in the midst of this good-byeing. I am trying, very intentionally, to say good-bye well. I am not trying to make you cry (although I may), I am not trying to make you uncomfortable (although I may). I am taking the long way around the thistle patch for you and for me — because neither of us want to be pulling those thistles out of our feet.
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. And we can be thankful that God is in the midst of both and therefore, all things are possible.