The house is quiet now.
In the small, sticky footprints I wipe off the floor, you can tell there was a party. In the bright, haphazard drawing blown under the couch, in the pizza-sauce stained plates stacked high on top of glasses with the remnants of Sprite and Pomegranate juice growing sticky in the bottom – you can see I haven’t been alone here all night.
They’ve gone now, though, and I cannot go to bed. I know if I close my eyes, I will be overwhelmed with sadness and not sleep – so instead I wash the floors and scrub the dishes. It’s nearly midnight, but I start a load of towels. I try not to feel like I’m purposely erasing every evidence that they were here. With me.
It’s not like I won’t ever see them again. I will. In January. Nine months away. By then the newest addition to their family will be six months old, inches will have been added to their oldest two, lives will have been lived.
For creatures created to live in permanent communion with God and each other – beings not created to say goodbye – we sure say an awful lot of them. They slowly overtake us in a friend’s long awaited move or overwhelm us in the shock of an unexpected death. We protest, we cry, we submit to it in quiet depression, we move on.
The first time I really read John 13-17 was at a slum school in Bangladesh. I’d lived with sixteen beautiful middle school girls who’d been abandoned by their families – either through death or through poverty. For five weeks we laughed together, talked about life, worried over futures. They served us much more than we could ever serve them. And so, when the time came to spend our final night leading the hostel Bible study, we chose to wash their feet.
It was the best goodbye I’ve ever said. We conveyed to them how much we loved them and appreciated them. We pleaded with them to show the same love to one another that they’d showed to us.
In preparation, I snuck away to read John 13 and found through the next five chapters the story of how Jesus said goodbye to His disciples. Of course, He was going to see them again. In just three days. But by then, they’d have seen His flogged body smeared onto a cross. They’d have watched him gasp out His last breaths, dying in agony and abandonment by the Father He taught them to pray to. They would have added betrayal and desertion to their repertoire of ways they failed Jesus. Three days were a lifetime.
So Jesus says goodbye. He gives them an extravagant demonstration of his love for them and begs them to do the same for each other. He explains they will do some things they won’t be proud of, but that God is faithful. He hints that to be left does not necessarily mean to be left alone. He promises another Companion on the way. But he cannot bear the thought of complete separation from them and so begs them to remain in Him as He remains in the Father. He prays for their unity because He knows they will need one another now more than ever.
They, of course, do not understand. Separation isn’t tangible until it’s pushing its way through your door and taking someone’s place on the sofa. They will be left with the regrets of what they should’ve done, what they wish they’d said, what they wish they hadn’t said.
Will they remember Jesus’ words? You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
As the regret doubles the weight of their loneliness and they stagger under quiet houses and lonely, leftover footprints will they remember that to be left does not have to mean left alone?
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.