On Permanence and Release

We’ve been blessed with a new academic year. The new year indicates the return of upperclassmen and the excited welcoming of new students; however, it also marks another significant turn of events: the sending out of those who completed their time at Covenant. New faces now frequent the Great Hall and the library, but old familiar faces are now absent.

For myself, this has sparked a thought on permanence. And when I say permanence, I mean the lack thereof that seems to permeate this side of heaven.

Covenant’s design is to be a launchpad. A student comes to Covenant to build up him/herself in the Biblical tradition and to go out into the world with a strong, Christ-centered framework. The student brings this framework to his or her next step; whatever that may be. Generally, people go and study under Covenant’s program not to stay, but to have the Lord call them elsewhere. This concept of coming and going is not unique to the college experience, but follows us throughout life.

We know that after college comes all sorts of newness and changes, be that marriage, career, travel, or a multitude of other opportunities that the Holy Spirit places in front of us. These new steps placed in our path are wonderful, and we can only imagine the blessing our Lord has prepared for us. However, with every new blessing comes change. And change is two-fold.

When we send out students into the world, we rejoice that they are being used as instruments for God’s redeeming grace in the world, but we also feel their absence. When new students arrive on campus, we welcome them gladly, but we remember what it is like to leave behind loving family and friends. With every calling, there is also departing.

Covenant in particular gives a sense of tight-knit community we’re blessed to share in. But, inevitably, people leave, creating a special sort of abrupt, difficult grief. Our Father does not promise permanence with those we love; spouses, parents, siblings, and friends are not exempt. The people we wish to permanently commune with cannot stay with us, for we, or they, are called elsewhere.

The grief of leaving is scattered throughout the Scriptures. One that comes to mind is Paul’s farewell to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20. Despite Luke’s direct and journalistic style, this section remains a source of heavy emotion. We can imagine Paul delivering his goodbyes through tears saying, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Acts goes on to describe the elders’ time of prayer with Paul and a goodbye filled with weeping.

Paul was called to go to Jerusalem from Ephesus. That was his next step. To continue with the Holy Spirit’s prompting, Paul had to depart from his family in Ephesus, knowing that he would likely not be with them again in this life. Ecclesiastes expresses this impermanence as “smoke,” (commonly translated as “meaningless”), which describes the fleeting quality of life. Why does it seem that people can leave as quickly as they enter? Is this what community is meant for?

In short, no.

It is true that we must release many in this life -- through the Church’s sending out of those called to share the gospel, the eventual change in location for a career or for a family, or through the Father’s call back to himself through death. This world is full of goodbyes which we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, must encounter in this life. However, this is not the original design for community. Despite our call to release those we love, we know that cyclical coming and going is not forever. We know our desire for permanence is something the world cannot satisfy.

We look forward to Heaven, which promises perfect communion with the Lord and those who are in Christ. In Heaven, we know that there will be no expectation of departure with every next step, but rather we know love will unite us perfectly with one another. We are also blessed to live in a time that allows us to see the adventures of our friends even after they leave us. Through the avenues of our phones and social media, our friends can remain close to us in some ways, for which we are thankful.

To the ones who have left us: we wish you well and we pray that the Lord uses you in dynamic ways throughout your lives. Thank you for welcoming us to Covenant and loving us so well.