Monday, September 19, 2011

Leaving, Grieving, and Embracing

Leaving, Grieving, and Embracing
By Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

Saying goodbye again.  It began a couple of weeks ago when we invited a few friends out for lunch.  Other occasions with more friends and relatives followed. Finally, we had a tearful farewell at the airport a couple of hours ago. Goodbyes.  As much as I dislike them, they are a part of life, especially for missionaries. 

I used to be na├»ve enough to think that leaving would get easier as the years passed, but the thought of possibly losing aging parents makes it increasingly difficult.  Leaving means grieving, not only for those who leave but for those who remain.  But the positive side of these emotions is that we have people that we love and that love us. It’s the kind of love that only deepens through the years. 

I’m writing this from a Frontier Airlines flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Denver, where we will connect to a flight to Seattle, Debbie’s home area.  We will spend about two weeks with Debbie’s family, going through the same leaving and grieving process all over again before going on to the Philippines to begin our fourth term of missionary service with the Assemblies of God World Missions. With Debbie’s family, the grieving is accentuated by the fact that Debbie’s mom has Alzheimer’s and there is no assurance that she will remember us the next time we come home.  Hard times like these give us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the beautiful relationships we have with family and friends in America.  We cherish all of them and carry the memories with us back to the Philippines. Even while we are overseas these relationships remain a vital part of our lives, and the advent of Internet communications allows us to remain in close touch. 

In our case, leaving and grieving also mean embracing.  First, it means embracing our pain.  We have a choice to acknowledge our pain of loss or deny it and bury it deep inside—an unhealthy but all too common response.  Embracing our pain means understanding that this is simply a part of following Jesus.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had the choice to endure the pain of the crucifixion in following his Father’s will or walk away from it all.  Fortunately for us, he chose to own his pain and take the path of the cross. While our pain is far less dramatic, it is, nevertheless, just as real.  Like Jesus, I have to choose to acknowledge my pain and deal with it, or try to ignore it although, unlike Jesus, I cannot really escape it. Putting these thoughts in writing has helped me deal with my grief in a positive way, and gives you an open window in the soul of a missionary. I also have the assurance that if I will face my pain, He will walk with me through the difficult moments.

Leaving, grieving, and the pain they cause is much easier to endure if there is a purpose.  In our case, leaving family and friends also gives us an opportunity to embrace the future.  We look forward to being reunited with a host of friends and co-workers, missionaries and Filipinos alike, in our beloved adopted country.  We look forward to again engaging the ministries that we left behind when we came home for itineration.  We eagerly anticipate the new doors that God has waiting for us as we continue to walk with Jesus in a land that has increasingly become our own.  Whether at home or abroad, following Jesus can be a great adventure, and we’re looking forward to what God is going to do in our lives. The future is indeed as bright as the promises of God.

Leaving, grieving, and embracing call for engaging a variety of emotions on many levels, and these emotions are real. But so is the opportunity experience God as he walks through the trials of life with us and takes us into the great future that He has planned.          

*All Scripture references are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

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Copyright 2011 Dr. Dave Johnson 

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