And life is full of loose ends, of rivers never crossed/ On tiny scraps of paper, notes jotted down and lost.— Brooks Williams, “Some Fine Day”
It’s an experience every pastor has eventually. Someone stops coming to church for no clear reason. There’s been no conflict and no division, at least that you are aware of. Visits and phone calls, if received at all, add no clarity. You’re simply left with unanswered questions and a feeling of loss.
A lot of life, not only church life, is like this: unresolved loose ends and questions.
What do we do about situations like this? How do we handle it when there’s a distinct lack of resolution?
Sometimes our “Why?” questions are left hanging in the air, without answers forthcoming.
Like it or not, I think we have to learn to live with this lack of resolution. Whether it’s to do with church, a relationship, or something else. Because people are messy. We human beings are quite inconvenient creatures. We don’t easily fit into people’s expectations of us. Others don’t neatly fit into our expectations. We don’t even always fully know our own motivations or reasons for the decisions we make. We can be a mystery to ourselves. No wonder we can confuse and confound those around us.
And life is complicated a lot of the time. There’s a lot going on around us. And inside of us. We don’t understand it all.
It occurs to me that one of the reasons I can be left so frustrated with the lack of closure that attends life (and ministry) at times is that it leads me to question myself or the value of what I am doing. I wonder if I’ve done something wrong. I can wonder if there’s something I didn’t do that might have prevented the situation. Sure enough, that might be the case at times. After all, I make mistakes. We all do. But other people make decisions too. And their choices aren’t always–or even usually?–about me. Either way, the fact is I may never know the reason why a given situation lacks closure.
And think of it this way. There may very well be other people who experience a lack of closure because of you. Knowingly or not, perhaps you’ve left someone out there wondering why, and feeling unresolved about some situation. As the lyric above from Brooks Williams says, “Life is full of loose ends.” And sometimes our best intentions become sins of omission or “notes jotted down and lost.” There is someone out there who has disappointed you. There is also someone out there whom you have disappointed.
Ultimately, life–that is, people and our circumstances–does not always provide the closure we desire or seek. So we’re often left with these (sometimes) unconscious feelings of longing for wholeness. That’s where regret sometimes comes from. Such a longing can surface in all kinds of ways. In bitterness, sadness, resentment, as well as in our feelings of disapppointment regarding family, relationships, our professional lives, and church experiences. But this longing points us to something deep inside of us. We all have a longing for wholeness. But if we’re counting on such closure or resolution in order to feel better about ourselves and our lives, we’d best get used to locating our sense of wholeness elsewhere.
At the beginning of his Confessions, Augustine wrote these famous words: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” That’s where we receive wholeness. That’s where we find ultimate resolution to all the broken pieces of our lives. That’s where all the loose ends either get sorted out or no longer matter. To that end, when we find ourselves feeling such a lack of closure, and we have it about something that this life can never truly resolve, we should let that experience point us to the only One who can resolve it. And not because in eternity we necessarily will get all the answers to the questions we’ve asked in this life. No, because once we find ourselves in his presence forever we will discover in his face all the answers we will ever need whether we asked them or not.