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Little Deaths: the Practice of Goodbye – redivivus

July 8, 2008

I’m going to be off-line for an indeterminate period, laid up in the Mater Clinic in Dublin undergoing heart surgery (as one does!). So rather than leave the blog dormant, I thought I would trawl through the archives for some posts I like, or which got a particular reaction from my reader!

This one was posted originally on 17 August 2006.


I remember the moment Phil, our daughter, first played on her own without me or her mother. I realised in that moment, though she was no older than 18 months, that she was growing up, and this in its turn would be followed by her leaving. Not for many years yet I hope, but soon. That tiny incident has been followed by all manner of goodbyes, her first day in school, her first sleepover, the first time Ade and I left our kids, with friends and family, and went away together alone.

We say goodbye in all manner of ways, all the time. The loss of a job or retirement; moving home; ending a relationship; ageing; death itself. Sometimes we want to hold on. I want to hold on to special times in my children’s lives, preserve them in a jar so they never pass this stage. But letting them go is also letting them grow. We need to say goodbye.

Sometimes we want to hold onto hurts caused by a friend who betrayed us and let us down, because it’s easier than moving on. Ultimately the unforgiveness damages us not our enemy. We need to say goodbye. Sometimes even churches or institutions, reluctant to let go of successful patterns from the past seek to hold on to things and patterns and programmes, which have come to the end of their natural term, because they are afraid of what the change might bring. We need to say goodbye.

Unless we learn to say goodbye wisely our lives can become encrusted with barnacles of regret, hurts, and all manner of encumbrances that hold us back from progress in our spiritual walk. Letting go well, is saying goodbye to something or someone in such a way that we are free to continue. We need to accept the wisdom of saying goodbye and take action to leave the grief behind us.

Goodbyes are not easy, one writer describes them as ‘an empty place in us’. Nevertheless they must be said. For the goodbye opens up space in our lives for new things. Writer Joyce Rupp says:

“Most important, I discovered that for the Christian, hello always follows goodbye in some form if we allow it. There is, or can be, new life although it will be different from the life we knew before. The resurrection of Jesus and the promises of God are too strong to have it any other way.”

Jesus himself said, to disciples who were anxious about saying goodbye to him:

John 16:21-22 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no-one will take away your joy.

Saying goodbye is difficult spiritual discipline for which we need to develop our practice and it’s exact contours are personal to each individual.

1. De-clutter: Until 2 years ago I had never thrown out a book in my life. Finally plucking up the courage to clear-out boxes and boxes of them helped me practice saying goodbye.

2. Grievances: Sometimes being reconciled to enemies is too difficult, we first need to practice saying goodbye to the pain and the grievance. We can do this in prayer, where we can safely practice what it would be like to forgive.

3. Ritualising: ritualise the loss of a loved one, or a job. Write a prayer, a psalm of lament, expressing your feelings. Take some of the trappings of the job for instance and say goodbye to them.

4. Decide: Sometimes we postpone saying goodbye, we refuse to make decisions about something that needs to be let go. Set a deadline and make a decision. Talk to someone else about it who will hold you accountable.

Every goodbye is a little death. We die a little with every farewell. Our fear of goodbyes is ultimately a fear of the final goodbye we will make when we leave this world. Learning to say goodbye is actually a preparation for dying well. In saying goodbye we prefigure our own bodily death. So that in that dying, we may say with Paul:

2 Timothy 4:6-8 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.


From → Formation, Reflection

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