One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14
Sitting in the Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi on a busy Sunday night, it hurts.
The tiled hall floors reflect the constantly moving shadows of people in a hurry to get … somewhere. Voices of countless nationalities weave the melody lines, underlined by the steady metronome beat of the clicking suitcases and footsteps.
I love airports. I love the sights and sounds. I love the movement. I love the implied promise – there are places to go; you have only to choose.
But this night, I want the sights and the sounds to go away. I want the movement to stop. I want failure to deliver on promises.
I’m leaving Kenya, and I’m not ready.
I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve, at least not when people normally do. High school and college graduations – not a tear. The ballroom scene in “Beauty and the Beast” or the hint of someone else tearing up – I’m a goner.
That’s why I was unprepared. For days, my departure moved inexorably closer. I worked on my to-do list, methodically crossing things off it. Paperwork to collect. Friends to see. Clothing to pack.
Until there was nothing left – but to go.
Time to grieve
From my perch on a Sudanese stool in my flat’s living room, I looked around one last time. In the hitch of silence following the departure of friends who had spent the last hours with me, I suddenly felt something I hadn’t budgeted time for: the raw choking feeling of impending tears.
For a brief moment, I teetered on the brink of an emotional breakdown. In the short span I can call hindsight, it was probably long overdue.
Hands over my eyes, I took deep breaths – and reminded myself of Philippians 3, a chapter I’ve gone back to over and over in the past week as I’ve wrapped up a year in Kenya.
If it weren’t for a taxi ride with my flatmate, I am positive I would have been a complete mess by the time I reached the airport.
That would’ve been embarrassing. Then again, maybe not.
Why are we scared of emotions? Or maybe it’s just me.
Hours later, I am sitting in the living room of a friend who lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He left South Sudan about six months ago after a year-long assignment. Another friend sprawls on the couch, a former “short-term” South Sudan worker who has been back for about the same amount of time.
When the silence falls, it’s comfortable. There’s no need to fill in the gaps.
When I received training at SIM, they talked about the grieving process. I don’t know if I experienced it as much when I first moved to Kenya. I had wanted to go for so long; I was ready.
But the wrung-out feeling I battled through two flights away from Nairobi and three airports still lingers even now.
It hurts to leave Kenya.
Time to press on
This phrase from Philippians has been on a non-stop loop in my head for days: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
As much as it hurts, I know it’s necessary.
When I first realized two years would have to be one, I struggled to understand why. But as the year wound down, I could see God at work. And no, two years this time was not part of His plan.
I hope to be back in East Africa – hopefully Kenya again – sooner rather than later. But it’s not up to me.
Isn’t that a comfort? Isn’t that a huge release from the pressure of expectations?
So, what do I do in the mean time? I am called to forget what lies behind. I am called to strain forward to what lies ahead.
Those two things certainly don’t sound easy. Or painless.
But what’s the result? “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? Whole-hearted focus on who God is and who I am in Him.
In the mean time, I’m going to take the time I need to grieve. To catch up with friends and family. And to wait on His purpose and His timing.
“Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise; they are simply the bass notes of our life song: ‘To God Be the Glory.'” – Charles Spurgeon