In our house the Christmas season ends on January 6th. Two days later while the children napped, my wife and I decided to take down the tree. I have never liked this process. It seems tedious and completely unenjoyable. It is one of those things that as you are beginning it, you immediately wish it to be over. I enjoy putting the tree up and decorating it, but my dislike of the dismantling process has even infected this. Sometimes while I am decorating I find myself thinking about the day I will need to say goodbye to the tree. I think about the work it will take to take it down and clean up. As you might imagine, by January 8th our tree was pretty dead and dried out. The branches had begun to droop and become brittle. Pine needles descended like snow on our living room floor with every minor movement of the tree. When I finally got the tree out of the house, I returned to a floor coated in needles. It is not an exaggeration that my floor could have easily competed with the ground in a forest of pines.
After staring for a moment at this giant mess so out of place in our home, I took out the broom and began to sweep them into neat piles to be collected and disposed of. As I swept I began to think about the symbolic nature of the swift succinct movements of the broom. I was sweeping up the last of the holiday season. I was saying goodbye to what is usually one of my favorite times of year. My wife and I were removing all traces of it from our home. I had even taken what was left of the tree and thrown it over the bank behind our house with what I am sure were heaves of symbolic finality. I hate goodbyes. They are a plague on mankind; a sickening reality that we are forced to confront from time to time. Saying goodbye weighs heavy on the human heart and the older I get the harder I think it gets. I believe this is because the longer I live the more deeply rooted my relationships become. I have moved a few times in my life and I have left home for college, each time has brought the deep sadness of relationships strained by the difficulty of distance. Moments like those ones make me thankful for an omnipresent God. There is no separation from him. We can’t even run from him.There is no goodbye or ending of the season. He is an ever present God available to believers at any moment and in all circumstances and places. It is no mistake that the book of Matthew ends with the phrase, “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” God does not deal in goodbyes.
Last Saturday our little family stood outside the security check in at the airport and said our goodbyes to my brother in law. He had come to visit for a few weeks and while in our home was the apple of my two year old’s eye. As we parted tears were shed, especially by my wife, and my heart broke to think about how my son would inevitably ask for him when we got in the car and he wasn’t there. Sometimes the innocence of a child can be gut wrenching. I despise goodbyes! My wife and I have been fortunate to return and settle in a place we love surrounded by people we care about, but we weren’t always sure that would be the case. One time we needed to leave and move down south. On our last Sunday in church I stood to say my goodbyes to some of the most wonderful people I have ever known. My voice broke and I could hardly get the words out. I choked on them as if they were some foreign object lodged in my throat and suffocating me. That goodbye was almost more than I could stomach. Even when I know the absence will be short I still hate it. Every time I must go away for work, saying goodbye to my spouse is like a one two punch in the stomach. Have I mentioned how much I hate goodbyes? But the truth is that goodbyes have made me grateful beyond compare to serve a God who never disappears, never goes away, and never even takes a day off to rest. David noted his inability to escape from God in Psalm 139. Verse five says, “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.” Everywhere we turn he is there.
The Bible has much to say about God’s presence and inescapability, but let me offer one final thought. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” God’s omnipresence is directly linked to his sufficiency. Paul tells us here that we are to not covet and that we are to be content. What is the reason for these commands? It is because God is always with us and he does not forget about us. No goodbyes with God means that we have every reason to be content with whatever situation we find ourselves in. Even if we must say goodbye to everything and everyone we love, God will still be present and he will still be sufficient. I also love that it says he will never “forsake”. The idea there is much more personal than simple presence. God is not just present and watching us from a distance, he is intimately involved in our lives and never willing that we should be alone or without help or comfort. Let us find contentment in his ever present caring for us. After all…. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)