The pain of saying goodbye to children and the joy of seeing them grow

On Tuesday I said goodbye to one of my favourite people. I won’t see him now until I get back from Japan—that’s 4 years. By then he’ll have doubled in age.

I knew saying goodbye to Seth would hurt. I’ve known him since he was months old—since Pete and Katy welcomed me into their family. Hanging out with them, and playing with Seth and Josh, helped make up for not seeing my nephews so much. I had fun with both of them, but for whatever reason, Seth and developed a special bond: He’s my Seth-monster.

And I hate to leave him behind.

But I must. Leaving behind those you love is part of being a missionary.

My friend Pete posted on Facebook after I’d left. Apparently Seth cried for 20 minutes straight. I thought I would too, but it turns out I was too numb to cry.

But Pete mentioned something else about his boys. It gives me hope that the pain is worthwhile.

“Both Jos and Seth—merely at the ages of 6 and 3—are genuinely thinking through the possibility of dedicating their lives to overseas mission.”

This made me realize an important truth: the pain I’m going through is the same thing that any parent/uncle/grandparent goes through . . . and there is joy in the pain.

What I mean is this, children grow up, and for those who love that child this is both painful and joyful.

Painful because the cute little thing we used to adore slowly disappears. Joyful because something, or rather someone, greater takes its place.

And the thing that brings the most joy—or at least a special kind of joy—is if you know that you were involved in that growth. If you were one who helped, even in a small way, to make the child you adore into an adult you admire.

So back to Seth. In a few weeks he’ll be 4. His life at the moment is a fantastic world of make-believe. Robots, aliens, knights . . . jedi-knights.  Over the years Seth and I have invented nearly a dozen different ways for me to swing him around.

In short, Seth’s world is a happy one. Sure he cries for all the reasons that 3 year olds cry—i.e., anything—but he’s yet to experience much loss.

Which is where I come in. Or rather where I go out.

As I read Seth’s reaction to the fact I’m going to Japan I could picture it happening. And it hurt. But now the pain is tinted with joy. Because I know that whilst my departure to Japan means that I will miss seeing Seth grow up, it also will be part of the means for helping him grow.

He will learn (no doubt aided by his parents) about losing friends, the cost of missions—which is really just the cost of following Jesus—the sadness of bonds broken, the underlying brokenness of this world, the hope of redemption through the cross of Jesus . . . His worldview will change and grow. And as it does, so will Seth.

Saying good-bye to people like Seth feels like a sacrifice. But the reality is that you don’t make sacrifices for the sake of Jesus. You make investments. Investments in your life, but also in the lives of others. Like all investments, there’s a cost. But like all wise investments, the rewards are worth it.

So I pray that through the bitterness of my goodbye Seth will taste the sweetness of the promises of God—promise like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” —promises that I cannot make, but which have been purchased for Seth by the blood of Jesus.

I pray that Pete and Katy will be able to explain the need for missions and the overwhelming promise of Jesus that He will repay 100-fold for any sacrifice we make for His sake. (I’m aware this is a ridiculous promise. But when a dude lays down His life for you and then comes back from the dead, it makes me think that maybe He meant it).

I pray in my absence—no, through my absence that Seth will grow into a man with strength of character and depth of soul.

I pray this not just for Seth, but for all the children I will leave behind. I pray that the pain of saying goodbye to little ones I adore will be balanced out by the joy of seeing them grow into men and women I admire.

So be strong, Seth-monster. When I get back from Japan you’ll probably be too big for me to swing you around, but I hope you’ll also have grown enough to understand why I had to go.

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8 thoughts on “The pain of saying goodbye to children and the joy of seeing them grow

  1. Katy Myers

    Seth is insisting (& refuses to believe otherwise) that he turns 8 next week. Maybe because you’ll be back when he is 8! Praying the Lord will guide and strengthen us to teach them of the Lord.

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  2. Ash

    Levi, this is great, really helpful. Although, I do think you’ll still be able to swing Seth around when he is 8. Or 18. Go well brother.

    Ash

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  3. Cathryn

    This is such a beautiful post and made me cry a bit. My little boy is changing daily from being the cute little thing we adore into a boy with views, an opinions and a ridiculous sense of humor. The thought of not seeing those changes is quite heart-breaking, so I hurt for you.
    The other thing that struck me is that you must strive to maintain that relationship with Seth. He loves you and he knows you’ve gone. But if you continue to build that relationship, from a distance, he will understand why you left, what you’re doing, why it was worth it to you. Hugs, Levi.

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  4. levibooth Post author

    Thanks guys, this was a bit of a tough post to write, so I’m really glad that you enjoyed it, and appreciate the kind words.

    Cat, that’s a really good point. It’d be easy for me to just dwell on the sadness of not seeing Seth (and others) but like you say, I now have the opportunity (and I guess also responsibility) to maintain the relationship as much as I can.

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  5. Pingback: For Everything a Season: on Goodbyes and Cherry Blossom | Reversed Thunder

  6. Pingback: How a handful of words gave me the joy to keep on track in Japan | Reversed Thunder

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