Treasure Valley Prays

The Graceful Exit

packing boxes

Even though it’s been a month since I announced my retirement, the reality of leaving my pastoral call and ending my professional career hasn’t quite sunk in. Yet after preaching my last sermon this past Sunday, it’s becoming more real. Since then, I’ve begun saying goodbyes through phone calls, Zoom meetings and socially distanced visits. I’ve also turned my attention to tying up loose ends in preparation for the next pastor, along with starting to pack up my office.

But packing up my office isn’t just putting books and files in boxes. It’s been sorting through them carefully, deciding what to keep and what to let go of. Along with reliving all the memories they bring up for me: the happy times recalling a class that I taught, a sermon I preached, a child I baptized; and the not so happy times from certain Council meetings or in difficult relationships. Going through all this stuff has brought up a sense of accomplishment for what we’ve done, and also regrets for what’s been left undone. With the reminder that saying goodbye to a community and a life’s work that I have loved is not easy.

What’s been helpful to me is putting my story within the larger story of God. In this case, the story of Simeon and Anna who are characters in the Christmas story. As told in Luke 2:22-38, these two seniors have been waiting for the Messiah, praying in the temple for his coming. Once they laid eyes on him after his birth, they knew God’s promise had been fulfilled. Now, as Simeon said, he could die in peace “for my eyes have seen your salvation, and the glory of your people Israel.”

In her book The Graceful Exit, author Mary C. Lindberg interprets this biblical story in a way which speaks to me deeply right now.

Apparently God’s plan all along was that endings would be part of life for God’s people. Simeon didn’t get to stay with Jesus and watch him grow. As relationships change and we grow older, we finally begin to see what Jesus means for the world, and then we face the pain of walking away, of separation from beloved communities. But God shows us endings can actually fulfill promises. Simeon and Anna waited their whole lives, trusting in God’s promises. Why could they go out the door gracefully? Because God kept the promise that sustained so many people. Because this sighting of God carried Anna and Simeon, and those who surrounded them all the way to the next sighting.

On Ash Wednesday we were reminded of the ending we all face, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” And yet we also remember that it was the dust of the earth from which humans were created and formed as God breathed life into us. Dust may be our ending, but it was also our beginning. That’s the crux of our faith as Christians. Through death comes resurrection. In baptism we die with Christ so that we may live with Christ. This is the promise that sustains us all the way to our next sighting of God’s presence with us.

Even though goodbyes are hard, I take heart in the truth that every ending leads to a new beginning. And that all that has been and all that will be is held in God’s loving hands.

Picture of Gretchen Bingea

Gretchen Bingea

ELCA Pastor
Immanuel Lutheran, Boise, ID

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