We all come to the end of different chapters in life. Some endings are celebrated, like a long tenure in a job or a well-run marathon race. Other endings are dreaded, like an early end to a hockey team’s season in the playoffs or the end of a vacation. Whether one is looking forward to an ending or not, staying focused and finishing strong can be an elusive skill.
Believe it or not, the way you end something is as important as the way you began it. [John Ortberg in an article “Birthing a Sermon” uses the illustration of flying a plane; he encourages one to spend as much prep time on the landing as one does on the takeoff.]
People are going to remember you more for the way you end your career than the way you began it. Leaving a country after long years of missionary service can be extremely challenging. Sometimes one’s greatest contributions are made in the last years of service – it can seem unfair that often only those are celebrated.
Right now MB Mission has TREK teams in various countries around the world completing shorter assignments of up to seven months. If you have ever been on an extended mission trip, you will remember the feelings that accompany leaving. There are unmet expectations, disappointments, dreams that did not materialize, and relationships not quite where you hoped they would be. The good and the bad all contribute to the challenge of focus in those final weeks. Now as these team come into the home stretch, it can be most difficult to stay focused and finish strong.
This is my encouragement to you:
Don’t count the days – The desire to be home added to the burden of culture and language can make one justify checking out early. Rather use each day for what it brings, and choose to enjoy it all – do something that revives the sense of adventure you had the first weeks you arrived.
Don’t stop meeting together as a team – This too can be a bit of a chore. Topics for creative discussion can take work to find. ‘Fun activities’ may have become an oxymoron.
Here’s an idea: read your team covenant to each other out loud and evaluate where you are hitting the goals and where you are not.
Or honestly talk about how hard you think it will be to end well
Or ask the missionary how hard it was for them to leave their last assignment to come to the country they now live…ask them if they have any advice for you to end well
Love each other daily – Don’t quit on each other. The skillset learned now will go with you into the rest of your life. The strain you are experiencing now is more realistic to the kind of pressure on relationships after years of attending one local church. When relationships start to strain, the easy thing is to check out and go somewhere else – what you learn on TREK today will help you stay committed to an imperfect church family. It is quite satisfying to stay through thick and thin, and learn to enjoy it.
Write a long journal entry – title it “Things I am Grateful to Have Experienced”
Take your hosts out for a meal – Pay for the meal out of your pocket. Bless them. Thank them. Party with them.
Extend forgiveness to someone – I know someone has offended you, even a little. Do you know how lousy it feels to try to salvage a relationship over email or Skype? Do it now. You will only regret walking away without looking that person in the eye, and having them hear you say the words, “I’m sorry.”
Tell someone about Jesus.
This morning I read the crucifixion story in my daily Bible reading plan. Jesus epitomizes someone finishing strong. Among all the prophecies fulfilled, the internal struggle, the physical pain, and the sacrifice eliminating the penalty of death for all who believe – this one thing struck me – Jesus in those final moments on the cross focused on others. Not only did he forgive all his accusers, but he took a criminal with him in to paradise. He summoned the breath to say “…today you will join me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
As things wind down in a job, at school, or on a mission assignment – don’t check out. Take a little encouragement from Jesus. Ask yourself who in your sphere of influence is ready to a make a change.
Go find them and finish strong by telling them the greatest news they will ever hear.
When was the last time you concluded a chapter in your life? How’d it go? Got any advice for young leaders?