You never know when an ending is really God’s new beginning.
It was during a meeting of adult Sunday school class leaders. When asked what classes were celebrating, a young man named Randy raised his hand.
“I have a celebration,” he said. “Our class is transitioning into not being a class anymore.”
Randy’s class of 30-somethings had dwindled in number to just a handful each Sunday morning and, while they were very committed to one another, after 10 years they believed the time had come to bring the group to a close.
The story was not as shocking to the other leaders gathered for the meeting as was the smile on his face. Randy’s class was truly celebrating their ending. Not in a “happy to be done” way, but in a “grateful for what God has done” way. They were sad that they would no longer be a Sunday school class but glad that they had chosen to finish well.
Rather than turning out the lights and simply going their separate ways, they organized a “bus tour” of other Sunday school classes. For four weeks they went as a group and visited other classes together. At each stop the message was the same. If you find a home in this group, we bless you to stay. If not, get back on the bus and come with us to the next stop.
Their highest value was helping one other to discover the new beginning that God had in store for each them.
When we finish well, when we nurture endings with as much care as we do beginnings, we give God room to grow something new.
A few years ago during a study on family we paired adult Sunday school classes of different age groups for an intergenerational series on family life. Our oldest men’s class, which was started in 1899, was paired with a group 30 years their junior.
A special bond formed between the two classes and, after the study was over, they continued to meet together each fifth Sunday of the month for a social so they could stay connected. Over the years, as it became more difficult for some in the Smith/West Class to teach, folks from the Friendship Class stepped in to help.
Earlier this year, due to issues related to age and health, the few remaining members of the Smith/West class decided that their 117th year of gathering as a group would be their last, and that they would each go their separate ways and find a new class on their own. The folks in the Friendship Class wouldn’t hear of it and invited the men to come and be a part of their group permanently. They were, after all, already family.
What these men reluctantly accepted as a necessary ending became an unexpected beginning — new life from what felt like death. The younger class not only brought a fresh spirit to the conversations on Sunday mornings, but now they are walking alongside of their older friends through illness and the many other challenges of aging, all the while benefitting from the rich depth of wisdom that those who’ve lived 80+ years of life can share with them.
God has done immeasurably more in their midst than any of them could have asked for or imagined.
We don’t have to be afraid of endings. When we aren’t intentional about finishing well, things that are important to us drift to a close like the waning chant at a football game when no one knows when to stop. So we just stop when we have no more energy rather than on a strong note.
Without an ending, it’s impossible to look back and say, it was good.
My friend Jim Everette often says, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” When we are willing to put the period at the end of the sentence, we trust and allow God to begin a new thought in our lives.