1 Corinthians 5.3
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit.
The magnitude of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys is astonishing — 48 locations, and over 8,000 miles of travel, in less than two decades. Add in the intensity of traveling on foot and animal, without modern cartography or weather prediction, and we begin to see the nomadic apostle’s fortitude.
Physical strain was only part of the weight Paul carried though. He mentions at times ferocity of spiritual attacks, but his writings allude to another pain he would have carried daily: the emotional weight of leaving friends and work behind as he pursued his calling. In his letter to Corinth he reaches back as if to say, though our time together ended, my love for you has not.
“Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Endings in vocation or relationship are difficult. Industry leaders soften the blow with words like pivot or merger; relationships now dissolve after one party gets ghosted.
“Whether we like it or not, endings are a part of life,” explains Dr. Henry Cloud in his book Necessary Endings. “They are woven into the fabric of life itself, both when it goes well, and also when it doesn’t.”
“Certainly I am not saying that every time something is not working, it should end. In fact, it is usually the opposite…. But there is a time, a moment, when it is truly over.” — Henry Cloud
We try to avoid endings because of the pain they bring. Yet sometimes endings need to happen — new opportunities need to be pursued, painful (or abusive) relationships need to be abandoned.
The word in scripture for life without endings is “eternity” — until that point we must navigate endings well. Dr. Cloud suggests three principles:
- Accept life cycles and seasons.
- Accept that life produces too much life.
- Accept that incurable illness and sometimes evil are part of life too.
Dr. Cloud concludes, “When done well, the seasons of life are negotiated, and the proper endings lead to the end of pain, greater growth, personal and business goals reached, and better lives. Endings bring hope.”
One of the reoccurring themes modeled in the apostle Paul’s life is his profound grasp on hope — Christ himself, who would never leave nor forsake us. It was the good news of Christ’s steadfastness which allowed Paul to traverse the many endings of life, even death itself.