Do you need to end something? I think we would all agree that that the end isn’t in sight for the COVID pandemic yet. Some endings are out of our control.
Some of us like to end things that are in our control, but perhaps a little too quickly – like important but tedious activities, relationships that cause tension and stress, or commitments to projects or teams.
Others find it difficult to bring an end to anything and can tend to resist change, even if it’s good for them. Somehow, we just can’t muster the courage or bring ourselves to end a fruitful ministry when its time is up or deal with a dysfunction in relationship because of an emotional connection or not wanting any awkward feelings in that relationship.
Without appropriate endings we will stay stuck in the present. Some things will naturally die, others we need to kill. It sounds drastic! Yet it can be done gently with a clear process that may help to save our lives. The title of this letter comes from Henry Cloud’s book ‘Necessary Endings.’ An important subject for all leaders.
Endings we don’t choose: Some endings we don’t necessarily choose, like an economic crisis, losing a job, the death of a loved one, the disintegration of a friendship, divorce or chronic illness, the loss of key staff, and so on. These endings can leave us broken, depressed and floundering – sometimes for years. These endings require a process of reflection, to identify our feelings, learn the lessons and have a clear perspective of what has taken place. Then, as time progresses, there comes a need of bringing closure to these events – to fully say goodbye, let go of the loss, come to terms with the new season and with God’s grace, begin to move on to the new gains.
My wife Rite led a preschool resource team for about ten years and Lynn was one of the team members. Sadly, she had three bouts of cancer and Rite went to see her to stay by her bed in the final season of her life in the hospice. There were several visitors, one of which was Lynn’s pastor, who came to pray and encourage her. He was about to gather the whole church to pray for her healing. Rite had watched the deterioration and had a sense that Lynn was close to death and needed to process things before she died. She gently shared this with the pastor who had been working on a totally different track. Lynn died peacefully the next day.
Endings we initiate: Other endings require us to take initiative. Henry Cloud says that ‘Pruning is a process of proactive endings.’ As we already know, pruning involves losing the dead wood, shaping the plant, taking cuttings for multiplication and pruning the good fruit-bearing branches to produce more fruit in the future. The problem is that the plant can look so bare initially once it’s pruned, that the image of it can stop us from using the clippers. We just have to fast forward a few months in our minds to see an abundance of fruit or flowers that will be the result. Endings therefore can produce fruitfulness. In relationships and ministry, this means we must know a clear future that we want to see and do some evaluation to recognise if we are on track to see that future taking place.
My wife Rite and I were married just outside Vancouver and lived fairly close to her parents. I quickly discovered that Rite’s Mum Anne, liked to organise our lives – there was always something we were to attend, a meal to come to, people to meet, and I realised I was beginning to resent her ‘over involvement’ in our lives. Rite was used to it as that had been the way of her whole life, but I wasn’t. So, as the pressure built, I became aware of the need for a crucial conversation, which I didn’t look forward to. I put it off several times but then the day came. I explained as best as I could that, now that we were married, we wanted to make our own decisions about where and when we would go as a couple. She could ask but not assume we would always do what she desired. She cut off communication for three weeks which was painful for Rite but then we began to communicate in a better way. Our lives needed an ending to the pattern that had emerged, otherwise constant frustration would have been on the menu.
Buildings can easily become sacred in YWAM. We had been running a rehabilitation centre for at least ten years; it had been a transforming community for many lives. There came a time though where the leaders felt their time was finished and, although we prayed and prayed, no one emerged to lead the ministry. So rather than burn the staff out, we took the decision to close the doors and sell the property. We were encouraged by the fact that as we closed our doors another ministry started a similar Rehab so we could pass on our contacts and wisdom to them. It was a necessary ending for everyone concerned.
Some of the most important decisions we make regard what we are not going to do from this point on. What are we going to eliminate in order to take on a new role, to enter a new season, to bring about a successful transition that is so necessary? Every season comes to an end.
Rite pioneered a preschool in Paisley which was highly successful. During one season, our youngest son who was then around three, became very sick and withdrawn. We took him to the doctor who, after examination, said that he couldn’t see anything that was actually wrong. We came home a little puzzled but Rite’s mum, who was a nurse, called and Rite explained what was going on. Very quietly, she gave her assessment over the phone – ‘I think Joseph is needing his mum’s attention.’ Rite responded immediately by assessing her role as leader of the preschool and the next morning brought one of the other staff in the middle and prayed over her for an anointing to lead. She had asked previously but at that time the potential leader had refused. Now she accepted the role so Rite was free to spend more time with Joseph. Within a week he was totally well. A necessary ending had taken place.
We were working in the retreat centre and I began thinking about one of my staff. He was a servant-hearted, very willing leader who had involved himself in all the retreats we were putting on, doing a great job. However, over coffee one day, I asked him about his passion. He shared with me what I already knew, that he loved SBS and, at that point, I understood what was needed – an ending to his direct involvement in the retreat centre. I released him from his commitment, encouraged him to pursue his heart’s passion, which he did and has blossomed ever since. Of course, I missed his involvement but a necessary ending had taken place for him.
Sometimes we need to get hopeless about a change that we have been praying into for a long time. Perhaps we are believing for someone to change in their attitude and behaviour who continually tells us, ‘It’s going to be different, I will change’ but they never seem to. There comes a time when we have to say – enough is enough. We have to bring an ending.
Let me just finish with one danger in talking about this topic. Some people will receive ‘necessary endings’ as an opportunity to jump in and out of commitments and responsibilities without a second thought. God gives grace to fulfil commitments and to follow through with a self-surrendered attitude. The necessary ending usually comes as we have prayed, thought and processed the possibilities. Then we realise that this is the way to go.
Part of maturity is getting to the place where we can let go of one wish in order to have another. We had to let go of the fruitful retreat centre we had been running for ten years so we could travel the world to be involved in the multiplication of the leadership programmes of LDC and b2b. We are now grandparents, so in order to give more time to our grandchildren, something has to end. We are surrounded with all kinds of endings that need to take place and, as we take the appropriate action, it enables us to live life to the full.
Make endings as graceful as you can and bring as little hurt as possible. They are often bittersweet situations.