The holy end of the beginning
How do you start a conversation about ‘holy endings’?
Our New Year theme (taking us up to Lent) Holy Endings explores how to prayerfully bring things to an end with dignity, care and love.
The truth is this: when something has broken down completely and we are entirely out of our depth, helpless and lost, our God gives us the opportunity to give something a holy ending - to hand it over, in all its messiness and pain and guilt and doubt - to let go in love.
With God’s grace, we can learn to retell the story of who we are, with all the twists and turns woven into a new narrative.
It’s not easy, it’s not pretty, in fact it can really sting, but we can do ourselves and others so much damage by clinging on to things it would be better for us to let go of.
Endings are always painful but sometimes necessary. A hard lesson to learn is that even good things that were great in their time, sometimes need to end in order for something new to happen. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12: 24)
But talking about things ending can, ironically, be a hard conversation to start.
We are often far more comfortable talking about what’s new, what we’re starting, or what’s coming up round the corner. At this time of year many are struggling to live up to unrealistic New Year resolutions that will peter out faster than the last of the Christmas Chocolate…
As a society we are often not very good at coping with endings. Our culture of consumerism keeps us focused on the next new thing - the latest update. Even at the cinema we seem to struggle with things coming to an end. We are unable to let go of loved characters and stories. Check what’s on at the pictures near you and it will be full of sequels, prequels, spin offs, remakes and ‘re-imaginings’.
It’s very hard to let go of that unrewarding job, toxic relationship, or heartbreak when we can’t even let go of Iron Man…
We live in ageing societies where people are living longer and longer and as a consequence death is being pushed further into the horizon. This is an incredible feat but it also means that we have increasingly come to think of death as a ‘medical issue’. The language around it is technical and legal, which is great for keeping people alive but not for letting people go in love.
The start of a New Year, a time of looking forward to the year ahead and back to the year that has gone, is a good time to take stock of our lives. As well as resolving to do new things, we may find we need to resolve to stop doing certain things, to let go, to give ourselves a break, to trust in God.
As well as bringing things to God there are times when talking to others about our holy endings could help us heal. Christians have to challenge themselves to not always put a positive gloss on things. Communities of Christians should be places where people can be honest about how they feel and what they are going through, but sadly this is not always the case. We often unknowingly, put pressure on one another to keep our chin up, to not dwell too much, out of a misguided sense that appearing cheerful and happy all the time is what God wants.
God wants us to offer our whole selves not just the edited highlights. Just take a look at the raw emotions in the Psalms, God can handle it.
Churches need to get better at dealing with topics like homelessness, divorce, addiction, redundancy and mental health. And not just in the abstract - but actually within our communities.
So how do you start talking about endings? Trust is incredibly important. People should never be forced to talk about deeply personal things in an unsafe environment, to do so would be deeply painful and counter-productive. What we need to do is to create safe environments and safe relationships where people in their own time can start to articulate what it is they feel that they might want to give a holy ending.
We should be more realistic about our emotions and the things we struggle with. If it would help, you could take a look though our discussion questions that accompany our Holy Endings theme. These might be helpful in personal conversation, or in a small groups, Bible studies, or prayer times. Perhaps with friends, family, colleagues, classmates, neighbours, that person you’ve been meaning to get a coffee with for ages but you haven’t fixed a date yet…
The questions are designed to help get the ball rolling. You do not need to go through them all, or in the same order, they are just a guide. I recommend at least one person in a group reads them through first and decides what questions to explore in a given session. See where it takes you.
I leave you with these words from the Brian Houston song, End of the Beginning:
No fear no lies and no pretence
This is the end of the beginning
Not the beginning of the end
No matter where the river bends
Some day we both will meet again