Good-bye to Good-byes

By on November 17, 2013
woman waving goodbye

Excerpt from “God Will Carry You Through”

By Max Lucado –

John Glenn knows how to fly a fighter jet. He completed fifty-nine missions in World War II and ninety in the Korean War. He knows how to fly fast. He was the first pilot to average supersonic speed on a transcontinental flight. He knows how to fly into outer space. In 1962 he became the first American to orbit the earth.1 John Glenn knows how to win elections. He was a United States senator from 1974 to 1999.

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John Glenn can do much. Give speeches, lead committees, inspire audiences, and write books. Yet for all his accomplishments, there is one skill he never mastered. He never learned to tell his wife good-bye.

The two met when they were toddlers and grew up together in New Concord, Ohio. Though John went on to achieve national fame, he would tell you that the true hero of the family is the girl he married in 1943.

Annie suffered from such severe stuttering that 85 percent of her efforts to speak fell short. She couldn’t talk on the phone, order food in a restaurant, or give verbal instructions to a taxi driver. The idea of requesting help in a department store intimidated her. She would wander the aisles, reluctant to speak. She feared the possibility of a family crisis because she didn’t know if she could make the 911 call.

Hence the difficulty with good-bye. John couldn’t bear the thought of separation. So the two developed a code. Each time he was deployed on a mission or called to travel, the couple bid each other farewell the same way. “I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum,” he would say. “Don’t be long,” she’d reply. And off he would go to Japan, Korea, or outer space.

Over the years Annie’s speech improved. Intense therapy clarified her enunciation skills and improved her confidence. Even so, good-bye was the one word the couple could not say to each other. In 1998, Senator Glenn became the oldest astronaut in history. He reentered space aboard the shuttle Discovery. Upon departure he told his wife, “I’m just going down to the corner store to get a pack of gum.” This time he gave her a present: a pack of gum. She kept it in a pocket near her heart until he was safely home.2

Good-bye. No one wants to say it. Not the spouse of an astronaut. Not the mom of a soon-to-be preschooler. Not the father of the bride. Not the husband in the convalescent home. Not the wife in the funeral home.

Especially not her. Death is the most difficult good-bye of all. I write these words freshly reminded of the ache of saying good-bye. Our church has had five funerals in the last seven days, from the memorial for a baby to the burial of a ninety-four-year-old friend. The sorrow took its toll on me. I found myself moping about, sad. I chided myself, Come on, Max. Get over it. Death is a natural part of living.

Then I self-corrected. No it isn’t. Birth is. Breathing is. Belly laughs, big hugs, and bedtime kisses are. But death? We were not made to say good-bye. God’s original plan had no farewell—no final breath, day, or heartbeat.

Death is the interloper, the intruder, the stick-figure sketch in the Louvre. It doesn’t fit. Why would God give a fishing buddy and then take him? Fill a crib and then empty it? No matter how you frame it, good-bye doesn’t feel right.

Jacob and Joseph lived beneath the shadow of good-bye. When the brothers lied about Joseph’s death, they gave Jacob a blood-soaked tunic. A wild beast dragged the body away, they implied. Jacob collapsed in sorrow. “Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days” (Gen. 37:34 NIV).

Jacob wept until the tears turned to brine, until his soul shriveled. The two people he loved the most were gone. Rachel dead. Joseph dead. Jacob, it seems, died. “All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.’ So his father wept for him” (v. 35 NIV).

Joseph lived with the same sorrow. Two decades passed. No word from home. Birthdays, holidays, harvest days. Jacob was never far from his thoughts.

The moment Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he asked, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” (45:3).

Question number one: “How’s Dad?” Priority number one: a family reunion. Joseph told his brothers to saddle up, ship out, and come back with the entire family.

He supplied them with provisions for the journey. And he gave each of them new clothes—but to Benjamin he gave five changes of clothes and three hundred pieces of silver! He sent his father ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten donkeys loaded with grain and all kinds of other food to be eaten on his journey. So he sent his brothers off, and as they left, he called after them, “Don’t quarrel along the way!” And they left Egypt and returned to their father, Jacob, in the land of Canaan. (vv. 21–25 NLT)

Jacob’s boys returned to Canaan in style. Gone were the shabby robes and emaciated donkeys. They drove brand-new pickup trucks packed with gifts. They wore leather jackets and alligator skin boots. Their wives and kids spotted them on the horizon. “You’re back! You’re back!” Hugs and backslaps all around.

Jacob emerged from a tent. A rush of hair, rangy and silver, reached his shoulders. Stooped back. Face leathery, like rawhide. He squinted at the sun-kissed sight of his sons and all the plunder. He was just about to ask where they stole the stuff when one of them blurted, “‘Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.’ And Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them” (v. 26).

The old man grabbed his chest. He had to sit down. Leah brought him some water and glared at the sons as if to say they had better not be playing a joke on their father. But this was no trick. “When they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived” (v. 27).

Sadness had sapped the last drop of joy out of Jacob. Yet when the sons told him what Joseph had said, how he had asked about Jacob, how he had called them to Egypt, Jacob’s spirit revived. He looked at the prima facie evidence of carts and clothes. He looked at the confirming smiles and nods of his sons, and for the first time in more than twenty years, the old patriarch began to believe he would see his son again.

His eyes began to sparkle, and his shoulders straightened. “Then Israel said, ‘It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die’” (v. 28). Yes, the narrator calls Jacob by his other name (Gen. 32:28). The promise of a family reunion can do this. It changes us. From sad to seeking. From lonely to longing. From hermit to pilgrim. From Jacob (the heel grabber) to Israel (prince of God).

“So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (46:1). Jacob was 130 years old by this point. Hardly a spring chicken. He had a hitch in his “getalong,” an ache in his joints. But nothing was going to keep him from his son. He took his staff in hand and issued the command: “Load ’em up! We are headed to Egypt.”

The text goes to wide-angle at this point, and we are given an aerial view of the entire clan in migration. By virtue of a census, the narrator mentions each family member by name. The sons, the wives, the children. No one left out. The whole gang of seventy made the trip.

And what a trip it was. Pyramids. Palaces. Irrigated farms. Silos. They had never seen such sights. Then the moment they’d been waiting for: a wide flank of royalty appeared on the horizon. Chariots, horses, and the Imperial Guard.

As the entourage drew near, Jacob leaned forward to get a better glimpse of the man in the center chariot. When he saw his face, Jacob whispered, “Joseph, my son.”

Across the distance Joseph leaned forward in his chariot. He told his driver to slap the horse. When the two groups met on the flat of the plain, the prince didn’t hesitate. He bounded out of his chariot and ran in the direction of his father. “The moment Joseph saw him, he threw himself on his neck and wept” (v. 29 MSG).

Gone were the formalities. Forgotten were the proprieties. Joseph buried his face in the crook of his father’s shoulder. “He wept a long time” (v. 29 MSG). As tears moistened the robe of his father, both men resolved that they would never say good-bye to each other again.

Good-bye. For some of you this word is the challenge of your life. To get through this is to get through raging loneliness, strength-draining grief. You sleep alone in a double bed. You walk the hallways of a silent house. You catch yourself calling out his name or reaching for her hand. As with Jacob, the separation has exhausted your spirit. You feel quarantined, isolated. The rest of the world has moved on; you ache to do the same. But you can’t; you can’t say good-bye.

If you can’t, take heart. God has served notice. All farewells are on the clock. They are filtering like grains of sand through an hourglass. If heaven’s throne room has a calendar, one day is circled in red and highlighted in yellow. God has decreed a family reunion.

The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:16–18 MSG)

This day will be no small day. It will be the Great Day. The archangel will inaugurate it with a trumpet blast. Thousands and thousands of angels will appear in the sky (Jude 14–15). Cemeteries and seas will give up their dead. “Christ . . . will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28 ESV).

His coming will be the only event witnessed by all humanity. “Every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). Moses will be watching. Napoleon’s head will turn. The eyes of Martin Luther and Christopher Columbus will widen. The wicked despot of hades. The white-robed martyr of paradise. From Adam to the baby born as the trumpet blares, everyone will witness the moment.

What a reunion it will be. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4 NIV). His first action will be to rub a thumb across the cheek of every child as if to say, “There, there . . . no more tears.” This long journey will come to an end. You will see him.

And you will see them. Isn’t this our hope? “There will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:17–18 MSG).

Our final home will hear no good-byes. We will speak of the Good Book and remember good faith, but good-bye? Gone forever.

Let the promise change you. From sagging to seeking, from mournful to hopeful. From dwellers in the land of good-bye to a heaven of hellos. The Prince has decreed a homecoming. Let’s take our staffs and travel in his direction.

God Will Carry You Through bookcover


From “God Will Carry You Through” by Max Lucado

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©2013 Max Lucado

Used by permission


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Good-bye to Good-byes