I’ve heard it said, “If you love something, set it free. If it returns, then it’s truly yours. But if it doesn’t return….hunt it down and kill it!
Just kidding…sort of!
But as we face the blank palette of each new day, and a new year, one of the main things we need to embrace is not just the “hellos” but also the “goodbyes.”
I still remember a painful conversation with a man who was telling me he was leaving my church. Before he left, he decided it would be helpful for him to tell me everything that was wrong with us.
As a pastor, that’s always a blast to hear. But out of respect, I took out my pen and started jotting down notes on the improvements he suggested.
As his list stretched on, it became increasingly clear to me that there was really one main thing he didn’t like about our church…me. Included in his list of dislikes were my preaching style, how I moved on the platform, my sense of humor, my love of creativity, my hairstyle (okay, I just threw that in for fun).
But seriously, what he mentioned was pretty much everything that made me unique as an individual.
At first, I was really bothered by the thought of someone leaving the church because of me. I started to reconsider my preaching style and wonder what I could change about myself so this wouldn’t happen again.
But during my self-examination, I realized I’d already begun gradually compromising my ministry in order to make people like him happy. I was subtly inching away from the vision God had originally given me for my church, and trying to deconstruct who he had uniquely created me to be.
As I asked God for guidance, I began to realize this man wasn’t just leaving, but God was actually removing him from my life. It was painful, it hurt my pride to see someone go, but it really was for the best.
Today I’d like to help you do one of the most healthy, productive things you have the power to do—say goodbye.
Instead, we often chase after some of the very people and things God is trying to remove from our lives. I know that welcoming people’s departure doesn’t sound very Christian at first, but it is often imperative to following God.
Sometimes, it’s the most essential thing you can do to protect what God is doing in you and through you.
Sad to say, but there are people in your life who have outlasted their expiration date. God brought them into your life to help you, but now they’re hindering you. Maybe they are trying to keep you from progressing past where they found you, or perhaps they threaten to pull you in a direction God doesn’t want you to go. If so, they will hinder you from moving forward and improving your life, sometimes because they simply lack the vision or the commitment to walk on further themselves.
It’s as if you’re on a mountain hike with a friend, scaling toward the summit up in the thin air. The uncommitted will try to persuade you to slow down or even go a different direction.
It’s at this point you unfortunately have to let them go a different path. You have to commit to our own destiny, even if they are not committed to theirs.
I learned painfully that one of God’s chief vocations in our lives is as a “Pruner”:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it bear more fruit.” – John 15:1-2
That means God will clip some things out of your life that are hindering your growth—personally and spiritually. Some of those things are habits that are hurting you. But sometimes they are people. God knows that you would never tell them to leave on your own, so instead he moves them out, saving you the trouble.
I’ve seen it happen to teens who were dating. A really sweet girl, but she would never reject that crazy, destructive guy she’s dating. So, suddenly ,the guy walks out of her life, leaving her devastated, but everyone who loves her a little relieved.
They knew he was destroying her, she even suspected as much herself. But she just couldn’t bring herself to call it off. So God did it for her.
I’ve known men who held onto jobs that were literally putting them in an early grave. The job is destroying them, but they don’t have the courage to quit. That would mean the loss of their security, and possibly even their self-worth as a man.
So one day out of nowhere, the company fires him, taking the ball out of his court. It’s painful for him and extremely hurtful, but many times it is the best thing that could have happened to him. That’s because God has something better for him, but the guy will never find it while he’s stuck in the same job.
Sure, she thinks that crazy boyfriend rejected her. He’s devastated his job was taken out from under him. They think it’s their fault. But it is often God, clipping away at their lives with his pruning shears. And it hurts badly, but it’s completely for their good.
Sure, pruning is painful. But it’s completely necessary because without pruning, we can’t grow. Ask any gardener—room must be made for new growth, so “deadwood” has to be removed.
So if God is pruning you right now, try to resist the urge to go running after “the deadwood” as it walks out the door. You will be tempted to change things in order to keep them. But to win their approval if you become someone you’re not, then it really won’t be “you” they’re approving of anyway, will it? And in the process, you will have forfeited your own destiny.
And come to think of it, have you ever noticed that the people in our lives who are the most “high maintenance” are rarely worth maintaining in the end?
By the way, that last line is where I dropped my microphone and walked away from my pulpit.
If God is removing someone from your life right now, don’t fight him. Let him gently remove those dead things from your hands right now, trusting he’ll replace them with something much, much better.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.