I’m currently engaged in a building project, trying to cobble together a new home for myself on the altered landscape of my life. Almost every day, someone -- a friend, family member, or delivery driver, asks some version of the same question. “Are you finished?”
This isn’t a post about my suite, so I’ll spare you the details, but the short answer to the question is no. I paid for the basics and am completing the rest myself, which I knew would be a long process. I did expect the rough-in to be finished less than 6 months after the estimated completion date, and I didn’t expect the electrician’s work to fail multiple inspections, requiring a series of long waits for him to return. But I digress.
Finished. The word has been echoing in my head. No, my suite isn’t finished, but many other things are, or at least appear to be.
The married-to-Dan phase of my life is finished. Obviously, it ended the day he died, but I was surprised at the extent to which the moving process reawakened the grief. I left the last home I will have ever shared with him; a house that was full of memories which swirled around me and kept me hanging on to the ethereal threads of the relationship. There’s a stark finality to moving. This is new. The old is gone.
The reawakened grief of widowhood in turn reawakened grief for lost dreams. As years of illness followed one after the other, I gradually released the idea of returning to mission work full time, but I still clung to the hope of someday accompanying Dan on his yearly trips back to Peru. Will I ever minister overseas again? Will I minister outside my own home at all? Is that phase of my life finished?
After decades of illness and living a mostly home-bound life, it’s easy to wonder what my purpose is. It’s easy to feel worthless. The voices of the culture and in my own head whisper that I, myself, am simply finished.
It’s a lie. I remind myself of that. I’m still alive, so I’m not finished. God may call me home in 30 years or 30 minutes, but in this present moment, there’s a purpose to my life. My mind knows that. My heart tries to believe.
As I ponder these thoughts while I work on my suite, it occurs to me that “finish” has multiple meanings. I put a finish on the floor. I use finishing nails to apply trim.
When used in this way, the word does mean that one phase of a project has been completed. It’s completed, though, so that the item can fulfill its intended purpose. It’s a completion that marks a beginning.
Among the tangled jumble of thoughts that the word “finish” prompts, three simple truths float to the surface.
1. Earthly experiences will eventually end. Joyful things end, but painful things also run their course. Sometimes they run their course here on earth, and sometimes our relief will arrive in the age to come. God says in Revelation 21 that in the day when God’s home will be among his people, death, sorrow, crying, and pain will all disappear forever.
2. Some things have no end. God has no end and our relationship with him surpasses time. Among the things that the Bible tells us last forever are God’s presence with us (Hebrews 13:5), his plans and purposes (Psalm 33:11), and his love (Psalm 136:1). 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that faith, hope, and love will endure when other things, which seem important now, fade away.
3. Painful experiences, which are often related to unwelcome endings, can make us feel finished, used up, and discarded. Maybe, though, they are part of the process of putting a “finish” on us which can beautify us and make us more useful for service. An ending can help equip us for a new beginning.
God, please give us your peace as we navigate painful endings and accept human limitations. Help us to remember the difference between things that are temporal and things that are eternal and to focus our time and energy on the things that will endure. Use us in whatever way you choose, and apply whatever “finish” you need to apply to better equip us for the tasks you've prepared for us. Help us to be strong, so that one day, we can say, as Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”