The Not-so-Good Goodbye

candleBy Joe LaGuardia

This past autumn I lost my father to gun violence.  A disgruntled citizen of the township of Ross, Pennsylvania, entered a public town hall meeting and indiscriminately fired off nearly 30 rounds in the crowd.

I remember the night vividly.  I received a call a little after 9 PM from my sister who was beside herself.  She didn’t know details but only knew that Dad had been involved in a shooting.

Over the next several weeks, I spent time with family in New York and Pennsylvania grieving the loss.  My father lived a wonderful life, and he didn’t have any regrets.  He was the life of the party and loved his Lord and his church; we grieved as Christians do: with hope and peace that all who call Christ Lord share in the promise of eternal life.

Yet, I am still bothered to this day that I never got to say “Goodbye” to my father.  As a pastor, I have sat with numerous individuals at their bedside and with families of loved ones whose hours on this earth were coming to a close.  I tell them that its important in those final minutes of life to say “Goodbye” and to confront any unresolved issues.

Even with a death marked by great dignity, saying “Goodbye” may not feel all that good.  It may not extinguish all of the feelings that come with loss, and saying “Goodbye” may eventually bear witness to unresolved grief that has yet to surface.

Saying “Goodbye” or being robbed of saying “Goodbye” can lead to feelings of anger and abandonment, of the futility of life and the guilt that accompanies many a journey “through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Anger is a very natural response to life’s end.  We who know that our breath of life will soon come to a close are angry with the world and with life itself because we can’t continue to be here for those we love.  We get angry when loved ones pass on and leave us to our own devices.

I am often angered that I can no longer call my father and ask for advice.  I feel alone and I feel like I want to run away.

Those who receive care or provide care for others may face many situations that give birth to anger.  They too want to run away, but then they feel ashamed and try to push anger aside.

What we don’t realize, however, is that anger can be the Spirit’s furnace of transformation in which the old self dies and a new self is born.

The Bible says, “Be angry, but do not sin; meditate in your heart on your bed and be still” (Psalm 4:4).  We have permission to be angry so long as we don’t follow through on some of the thoughts that accompany our anger, especially if those thoughts involve hurting others or ourselves or if our thoughts devise ways of retaliation.

God gives us permission to be angry and to be honest.  If we look close enough at the book of Psalms, for instance, we can see that that ancient prayer book made room for anger too.

Psalm 83 begins with angry questions pointed towards God’s apparent absence and silence.  There are feelings of abandonment that are so familiar to the angered heart:

“God, do not be silent, do not be still.
Do not be quiet God while your enemies roar.”

If God created us with the ability to be angry, then surely we can use the passion and profound feelings of anger to seek that much more for the face of God.

Anger must drive us deeper into the embrace of God, not push us away from God.  It should affirm that God is still with us even in death’s shadow, but also affirm that anger is but a symptom of fear.

We are afraid, and feelings of abandonment, fragility, and hostility all point to the truth that we all feel like orphans sometimes.  But God is a God of the orphaned; God accepts us just how we are.

Romans 8 speaks of this truth as well as the future glory in which we all share:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

If you are struggling with anger today, lift up your hearts in prayer rather than cast them down into the shadows of life.  Cry out in all honesty and let God walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death.  As the litany goes…

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Amen.

Authors note: This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Daphne Reiley and Joe LaGuardia for people who are receiving care from others.  We hope the book will be published in the next year or two.

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