Bittersweet Goodbyes

2 Kings 2:1-2 (New Living Translation)
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel. The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?” Elisha answered, “Of course I know. But be quiet about it.”

The prophet Elijah was a wonderful mentor to Elisha. Elijah taught Elisha, preparing him to be his successor. Now Elijah’s ministry was reaching its end, and Elisha was ready to take over. Or was he? In those last moments, we see some hesitancy on Elisha’s part. He knows that Elijah is about to be taken away from him, so he refuses to leave his master’s side. Several times Elijah urges Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha is having none of it.

Icon Elijah ascending to heaven

Icon of Elijah’s ascent into heaven (Pskov Museum, Russia)

That’s why I find this icon of Elijah’s ascension so wonderful. Elijah is already on board the chariot, ready for his next adventure. But Elisha is holding tightly on to him with a look of determination and desperation. He is not ready to have his mentor and friend leave him behind.

I especially enjoy the way the angel is peering over the top of the flaming chariot: “Hey! You there! What are you doing, man? Let go!”

We don’t like important relationships in our lives to end. And can you blame us? After all, we’re wired by God to love! We were created to want meaningful connections — relationships that teach us, encourage us, stretch us, inspire us, comfort us. But the truth is that people come in and out of our lives. It’s a natural part of living. People move away. People die. People change and relationships change along with them.

A very wise pastor named Eugene Zimmerman wrote this when a good friend passed away: “Everything I call ‘mine’ isn’t mine in the sense that I possess it. So many things, including my life and the people I  love, are not mine to keep. They are given for a while, and then I shall have to give them up. I could be bitter about it and curse the giver for taking them back. Or, I could rejoice and thank him for the privilege of allowing me to share in his wonderful creation, which is marvelous and mysterious at the same time.”

Because of his relationship with Elijah — arguably the greatest prophet in history — Elisha was able to confidently begin his ministry, and to change the lives of so many people he would meet.

In the same way, we are enriched by our relationships. So, let us rejoice and thank God for the privilege of sharing in deep, meaningful ways with the people in our lives.

What relationship has made a positive, lasting impact on your life — an impact that endured beyond the end of the actual relationship?

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