So many things in life seem to demand our attention, so how do we choose what will stay or go, and how do we find peace with these endings?
In a sermon on Zechariah, Pastor Carter Conlon explained the deep discouragement that people felt seeing the rebuilt Temple.
“They headed up to build this testimony for Christ only to be discouraged. There was so much rubbish, so much rubble. They tried to build a foundation, and there was mockery of it all around. You know, when you and I start to live for God, you have to get through this gauntlet of mockery, these inner voices—like Paul said, ‘The fears within and fightings without’—that we have to face on this journey with Christ.
“And they became discouraged. That happens to people in the body of Jesus Christ, because they said, ‘How little it seems to represent the original vision of what we thought our lives would be.’
“I wonder if we had an honest testimony meeting here, how many would say that. ‘I headed out with such vision.’ Maybe it was 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago in some cases. ‘I had something burning in my heart that God would do through my life. I started out really big, with a big vision, big expectancy, and here I am now…and my life has turned out so small in comparison to what I thought it was going to be.”
“Could it be that I’ve fallen short? Could it be that I’ve actually displeased the Lord?” Pastor Conlon spells out the questions that often trouble believers, then he turns the questions on their head.
“Is it possible that we don’t see something as God sees it? Is it possible that finishing small is not as small as we think it is?”
Reckoning with Necessary Endings
Ending things is hard, and it’s made harder when the ending is small or disappointing or just not what we expected.
Coleen Buglino, senior administrator at American Bible Society, mused on the grief of small, undramatic endings in relationships. “For most of us, some of our dearest friendships don't continue with us as we enter new seasons of life and growth. People move, get married, have children, join new churches and make other life-altering decisions. Whatever the reason, it seems increasingly difficult to make and keep our friendships as we get older.
“We invest so much time and energy into our friendships and can feel a deep sense of loss when those people no longer hold the same sacred place in our lives.”
Often, though, drawing relationships, jobs or seasons of life to a close is important.
In Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud points out, “Life is composed of life cycles and seasons. Nothing lasts forever. Even the ceremonial liturgy of marriage, a lifelong commitment, acknowledges an end on its first day, ‘till death do us part.’ Life cycles and seasons are built into the nature of everything.
“When we accept that as a fundamental truth, we can align our actions with our feelings, our beliefs with our behaviors, to accept how things are, even when they die.”
When something in our life ends, it leaves an opening for new things to grow. If a friendship ends, we have the chance to invest more in other relationships. If a marriage ends, we have a painful but important opportunity to draw closer to God in a unique way. If a job ends, we can venture on a different line of work or move to another city and see ways that God is providing that we might have missed all along.
Endings are almost never easy, but they are inevitable, and that makes them important, even the small ones.
Deliberately Choosing an Ending
Being at peace with endings that are unavoidably is one thing, but what about deliberately choosing to end certain projects or jobs or relationships?
Dr. Henry Cloud addresses this in his book as well. “Life begets life. That is normal. But it can be too much, as well. This second principle will make pruning normal for you as you accept the reality that life produces more:
Relationships than you can nurture;
Activities than you can keep up with at any significant level;
Clients than you can service all in the same way;
Mentors who once ‘fit’ but whose time has passed;
Partners whose time has passed;
Product lines than you can focus on;
Strategies than you can execute; and
Stuff than you have room for and can store.”
Out of the bounty that God has given us, we will to sit down from time to time and decide where we want to spend the bulk of our energy and attention.
These may even be good things like friendships with cool people, promising ministries that are beckoning, job openings that could take us in multiple different directions, travel opportunities, pay increases, investments, the list goes on.
The problem is that we’re finite. Eventually we’re going to run out of hours in the day. Our bodies won’t be able to keep up after a certain point. That’s when we have to decide what goes and what stays. This can be especially hard when the options we have are all good things. How do we choose between a relationship with that person and this person if they’re both great individuals?
Isn’t cutting good things and people out selfish?
It might be. That’s a question we each have to ask God honestly. If we’re hoarding our own time or energy when God wants us to invest in someone else or a ministry or work, then that is selfish.
However, we will also have periods of our lives when we can’t keep up with everything. We’re not God; we’re not infinite founts of energy and time. In order to rest (like God commands us to) and really invest in some relationships or activities, we have to cut others out. They may be good things, but they’re just not the best.
Ending Even Good Things
So how you divide between good and best when you’re looking to simplify your life? An easy way to answer this question is to look at Jesus’ example.
Jesus was the grand master of saying, “No.” Crowds constantly wanted his attention; his ministry was booming; his best friends constantly had questions and concerns they wanted to run by him.
Despite all this, we often see Jesus leaving them all behind to spend time with his Father in prayer.
My first thought is often ‘What a waste of time! He could’ve been converting more people, healing more invalids, instructing his disciples more thoroughly. Maybe Peter wouldn’t have denied him three times if he’d spent more time putting some starch in Peter’s faith.’
The truth is Christ prioritized his time with God above all else, and a lot of ‘good’ things were left undone because he chose to pursue the best.
God tells us that we are to observe the sabbath (rest) and pursue his will. Those two things take time, and yet nothing will be more important for our spiritual wellness than prioritizing those two commands above all else. In order to do this, we have to say no to relationships, ministries or activities. People may be upset and try to convince us to stay and devote our attention to them or this endeavor, but we can’t let our eyes be dragged away from the prize.
All things come to an end, but some good things must be ended in order for us to find the best.