© 2016 Lynn Abbott
I had time to prepare. Not much else can be said for it, but at least, cancer does provide the opportunity to say “goodbye.”
And so when my mother drew her last breath in June of 2008, I had not only said “goodbye” but more importantly, I whispered “I love you” again and again.
Nevertheless, grief propelled me into deep shadows.
Understandably, I looked for ways to soothe such tremendous heartbreak, to anchor my life despite the loss of Mom’s counsel, shelter, nurture and daily expressions of love.
My husband says that art was my mother’s parting gift to me.
No, Mom wasn’t an artist.
My husband simply means that had it not been for her death, I probably would not have picked up my paintbrush again. Or if I had, I might have remained a dabbler.
After all, life has a way of filling our time. And prior to Mom’s death, my days were full, and happy.
After her passing, however, the hours stretched out in endless grief. “Drowning” best describes it.
One day, while sorting through her things, I found a simple wooden box. When I opened it, I couldn’t help smiling. Inside that hinged pine, I found a rainbow assortment of paint tubes.
And I remembered. Mom had given the colorful assortment to my dad toward the end of his life. Although disabled and housebound, he had expressed interest in painting. After all, his father had been a professional artist.
It seemed fitting to pick up the paintbrush, to use those beautiful colors…a memorial to both my parents.
And the side benefit? Plunging into a painting project helped me forget my searing grief for a few hours. You might say that like Mary Poppins I popped in and out of my “chalk pictures.”
Through my painting, I escaped my overcast, rainy reality and took a mental, “jolly holiday.”
Indeed, painting brought me a kind of temporary respite, offering some measure of comfort and peace during those dark days.
Thus, every time grief, anxiety, or cold shadows enveloped me, I painted. I painted a lot.
In fact, I typically produced 2-3 new compositions per week. As a result, I can say with all honesty that although practice doesn’t exactly make one “practically perfect in every way,” it certainly yields improvement.
Or as some of my educator friends say, “Practice makes progress.”
In this way, my mother’s “goodbye” became synonymous not with ending but with beginning. Pain gave way to painting. Goodbye introduced an unexpected hello.
I certainly didn’t anticipate it. As my mom drew her last breaths, I told God I couldn’t face the grief.
I said, “Please, Lord… no! Please don’t take her from us. We need her.”
I couldn’t see His plan. The future shrouded by heavy overgrowth. And as I peered into the shadows, I didn’t like what I saw.
Maybe that’s why I can relate so to Peter. You recall the last days of Christ’s earthly sojourn. Christ increasingly spoke of his death as the Passover drew near.
And yes, the same Peter who said, “You are the Christ” also pulled Jesus aside to object to Christ’s earthly mission.
Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things… and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you,” (Matthew 16:21-22).
Please, Lord… no!
As is so often the case with me, Peter couldn’t understand God’s plan. He couldn’t see beyond the shadows. . In fact, he could not even begin to imagine the incredible things that God had in store.
Peter’s faith faltered as he stared into the twilight. As a result, he focused on shadows instead of trusting His Savior’s plan.
In fact, Jesus called Peter on it. Christ noted that Peter did not have the things of God in mind (Matthew 16:23). Peter’s perspective was decidedly human.
Even so, God’s grace prevailed.
Christ knew that in order for God’s entire purpose to be fulfilled, the “goodbye” must first come. Not only did our salvation depend upon Christ’s sacrificial death as well as His resurrection, but His ascension would introduce a new line of communication between God and His children…the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit, The Comforter, in the hearts of Abba’s children, (Acts 1:8).
It was a case of saying “goodbye” in order to bring about a bigger and better “hello!” Sheldon Van Auken, friend to C.S. Lewis, aptly called this experience “A Severe Mercy.”
I get that. Frequently, Grace doesn’t initially make human sense. “Goodbyes” are painful. I don’t know anyone who delights in the journey through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
Yet, this I do know… God has a habit of bringing forth good from all things–even the seemingly grievous–on behalf of His beloved children, (Romans 8:28).
Yes, indeedy. That’s the kind of God we serve.
As the Psalmist sings, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD,” (Psalm 27:13-14).
For the sake of His disciples, Christ anticipated and spoke of this supernatural “hello” in the days and hours before His death; He promised his followers that the Comforter or Helper would come, (John 14:26).
He explained, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you,” (John 16:7).
In Acts 1, after His death and resurrection, Christ reminded his disciples of this promise. His Ascension not only heralded but inaugurated the coming of the Comforter–still further realization of Immanuel, God with us.
Certainly, in His ongoing grace toward us, God has once more provided for our good. With His Spirit’s continual presence comes power over the shadows and darkness of this world. He is our mighty fortress, strong tower, counselor and ever-present help in time of trouble.
So when shadows creep into our lives; when fear, anxiety, and grief preoccupy my thoughts; when darkness chills the soul, I wonder why I do not remember more often to run to the Comforter to find the lasting, perfect peace that only He provides.
Do I fear mockery such as Peter and the others faced that day of Pentecost? Am I afraid of appearing too radical, and out-of-the-mainstream?
Or have I simply misunderstood, complicated, or even forgotten Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit?
Quite honestly, I’m not sure why.
I do know, though, that the entire book of Acts acquaints you and me with our source of strength. And I see the simplicity of it all: you and I need simply to ask.
When we knock on Abba’s door, the way is opened to us. When darkness looms, we need only pray, seeking comfort from God’s Spirit.
If we don’t know how to pray in a situation, we ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, (Romans 8:26-27). When we’ve lost our way, we are invited to cry out to Him for guidance.
When you and I find Scripture difficult to comprehend, God’s Spirit will instruct (John 16:13). When fear and anxiety cripple me, the Spirit stands waiting to take captive those thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Ask. It’s as simple as that. No spiritual hocus-pocus. No litany of good works required. We simply ask Him and find “grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).
Of course, because of human frailty, I find I must “practice the presence of God” continually. You can be sure I’m constantly asking the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and intercede for me as well as to intervene when my thoughts wander in shadow.
But I have learned that no matter how dark the shadows, God will ultimately turn “goodbyes” into beautiful “hellos.”
Undoubtedly, for Mom, “goodbye” brought a beautiful, home-going “hello”. And for me? Saying “goodbye” meant a new journey… God’s “rest of the story,” the fulfillment of the Master’s plan for my life.
Of course, Abba’s path requires that I acknowledge and embrace His Spirit’s presence by far more frequently than 2-3 times per week. After all, painting a life story in faith’s deep colors requires the unremitting power of God’s Spirit in the moment-by-moment.
Thankfully, “practicing His presence”–as Brother Lawrence once described a moment-by-moment walk in the power of the Holy Spirit– brings perfect peace.
Indeed, His promise holds. God’s Spirit illuminates the way, driving out darkness and carrying us safely through the “shadow lands.”
And Isaiah testifies of God, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you,” (Isaiah 26:3).
True, like Peter, I sometimes fail to see the good in “goodbye.” Yet, God is faithful. For this reason, from what appears “not-so-good,” Abba often brings forth a spectacular “hello.”
Peter and the other disciples proved this beyond all doubt. The book of Acts records the result of the Holy Spirit’s transforming presence in their lives.
In Acts 2, God’s Spirit revolutionized the lives of a beleaguered, disparate and loosely connected group of Christ followers. Fearing the shadow of persecution and martyrdom for Christ’s sake, the disciples prayed obediently in that upper room in Jerusalem. However, they may have entered the room in fear, but they exited in courageous, Spirit-filled power.
Unquestionably, Christ’s Passover “goodbye” was absolutely necessary for God’s masterpiece to be fully realized. It displayed God’s love and grace in all its glorious and vibrant color. It brought forth an extraordinary new creation, (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Yes, in God’s economy, “goodbye” often means “hello.”
“Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need,” ~ Hebrews 4:16
“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” ~Romans 8:26-27
“Truly, truly I say to you, that you will weep and lament… you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned to joy,” ~John 16:20