The Difficulty of Saying Proper Goodbyes

It takes real maturity to say proper goodbyes. That’s what I’ve decided.

Anyone can just run away. You make a decision in your mind that you’re moving on to the next stage, next place, next community, job, relationship, or whatever. And then you just do. No looking back.

But having proper closure is healthier. And more loving.

Thus, I would say that I am maturing––still in process, but it’s getting better. I see hope for me, YAY. I participated in a full-out, official going away party for me and my teammates on Sunday, I visited my former workplace to say final goodbyes to my former students and coworkers this morning, and I’ve filled my last days in Seoul with numerous one-on-one dates with particularly special people. I’m quite proud of myself.

I used to say I loved closure.

I’m not sure why it took such an effort to force myself to have some this time around.

I guess I was simply afraid.

Afraid of awkwardness, afraid of rejection, afraid of being burned. Why even risk all that when I wouldn’t be seeing any of these people (much) in the future anyway? Why not just hold onto the memories already made? It makes perfect sense from a self-preservation point of view.

Something I’ve realized lately is that God makes me unafraid.

Thinking back on these last 2+ years in Seoul, I would say that is one of the most powerful ways He has changed me. I am much less afraid than I used to be. Much less afraid that people will reject me or let me down. Much less afraid that I will do something wrong. Much less afraid that things will not turn out the way I want them to.

My fearlessness doesn’t come from a growth in my faith in people or even in myself. People still disappoint me about as often as they always have. I still make mistakes about as often, too. But I am much less afraid because I am much more confident in God’s love for me.

I always knew God loved me. I always thought I knew. But my understanding was just a shadow, a mere mist, a gentle spray hitting my face. God wanted to plunge me under the waterfall.

I was always willing to settle for whatever happiness I could get.

But He has always told me to open my hands and get ready to receive MORE. Not because I deserve it. Just because He loves me.

(Although, now that I think about it, our relationship is so beautiful not solely because of His love, but because of mine as well. At times I make myself out to be this apathetic, simple-minded person with a tendency to settle, but I’m actually none of those things. I’m actually a passionate, intelligent, deeply thoughtful, and fiercely loyal kind of person. Instead of saying I was always willing to settle, it would be more accurate to say that I’ve always been willing to surrender everything to Him.

So maybe that’s why He always tells me to open my hands to receive more. Now that I think about it, I don’t think He says that to everyone.)

Anyway, back to my original point: His love makes me unafraid of loving others. Unafraid of showing affection. Unafraid of making myself vulnerable.

Tonight I said goodbye to the boy to whom I’ve taught piano for the past year.

Of all my goodbyes, this was the scariest.

This boy lives at a children’s home, and I’ve been deathly afraid of traumatizing him with my departure, but during our last lesson, I realized that all I needed to do was be myself. All I needed to do was love him from that place of confidence in God’s love.

I didn’t plan anything too special (though I did prepare a letter written completely in Korean for him and bring him some cookies), but as I made conversation with this rather reserved 16-year-old, (“What do you want to do in the future?” “Write novels.” “Really?? Me, too!!!”), I was amazed by how much joy was flowing. He smiled and laughed so much tonight! And he even smiled in the pictures we took together!

That was when I realized just how glad I am that I’ve experienced the gushing waterfall of God’s love.

How else would I be bold enough to love people who might not love me back? How else would I be fearless enough to be generous in my affection? How else would I be able to take the risk of showing people how much I care in my goodbyes?

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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