Bob Fryling wrote the reflection below upon retiring from Intervarsity and InterVarsity Press after a forty-six year career. We share it with his permission, knowing that many readers will be able to find their own hearts and experience in his words.
(On United #272 from Orlando to Chicago after my last InterVarsity National Staff Conference)
Lord, I sit in an exit row grateful for the extra leg room but struggling to find enough heart room for all of my emotions of leaving a national InterVarsity gathering of staff for probably the last time. There are plenty of happy people sitting around me wearing paraphernalia from the Magic Kingdom but my spirit is not happy in no longer being surrounded by long-time friends and ministry partners in the work of God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Lord, why do we have to say good-bye to those who mean so much to us – to those who have known us and our families for decades? Why is it good to lose meaningful work relationships with those who have prayed, laughed and cried with us over personal struggles, organizational successes and conflicts in hours of meetings in the warp and woof of organizational life?
Lord, it is painful to realize that shared memories of difficult and celebratory experiences will be lost not only in a history unknown and undesired by new generations but by my own detachment from the daily reminders of your work in my life and in the lives of others for so many years. My journals are full of these thoughts but who wants to read them now – including myself? At times these memories feel like narcissistic nostalgia rather than triumphs of your grace.
But I trust in you that no hair on my head or friendship or experience falls away without you knowing about it. You are the alpha and omega of not only creation but of my life as well. You gave me my family of origin and my family of marriage and progeny. You gave me pastors, churches, spiritual gifts and tremendous opportunities to see you at work among college students and faculty.
You also gave me the privilege of working with wonderful colleagues, authors, and other Christian leaders. Thank you for all of these good things in the past and I trust in you for new good things in the future – even in the context of letting go what has been so fundamental to my life and identity.
I pray for courage to be faithful like Abraham to leave what has been secure and to have hope for what lies ahead even when issues like health, finances and living location are unknown and scary. Help me to be more like Jesus who left the divine perfection of heaven to live in an imperfect world of sin and feeling forsaken. May I have the courage to feel heavy hearted while also being a person of grace and truth.
Help me not to wallow in memories and laurels that would preclude me from actively engaging in this next stage of life and all of its irreversible diminishments. Grant me courage too to live in the present with a confidence of your Spirit working in me now in daily life apart from the continual stimulus of organizational leadership and opportunities.
I pray too for a deep spirit of gratitude that looks at past memories and relationships as preparatory blessings for a future life with you and all of your people that have been such a part of my life. Deliver me from a critical spirit and any vain regrets that tempt me to try and recreate events in my own image rather than in your providential care. Lead me in eager thanksgiving for new friends in new places.
Ultimately, Lord, help me to let go. I think of the tree outside our home that still has its withered and dead brown leaves clinging to its branches. Why don’t they fall? Why are they hanging on? May I not be such a tree but allow me to be a tree that lets go appropriately of what have been vibrant green leaves of life so that I may be prepared for the springtime of new life.
So I praise you Lord for all that you have done and all that you will do in not only my life but in the lives of those around me. You are not limited to human structures and relationships that fail or disappear. Rather you are the one who wants my friendship and companionship for all of eternity. So I praise you for calling me to yourself not only in the past but now and for evermore!
January 6, 2017