“I’m so glad you were here for two months and not just a few weeks,” Number One niece mumbled into my chest, choking back tears, my last night in the States.
A few days before her sister, Number Two niece, had told me, “It sure is good you weren’t here for a whole year or it would be even harder to have you leave.” We were backing out of the drive way and I couldn’t look at her in the rear view mirror because it’s hard to drive with tears in your eyes.
The prior weekend Number Three niece had looked at me with her big blue eyes and asked, “Why do you have to go back?”
Each in her own way was expressing the pain of separation. The ache of not being near people who are dear. The sorrow that comes with hearing about something, as opposed to getting to be there in the midst of it.
As I embraced the physical, emotional and even spiritual pain I felt as I packed my bags, hugged my people, stood in lines and was transported away from them, I saw it as a living metaphor. A metaphor for what sin does and the pain it causes. Sin creates separation. Separation from God. Separation from other people. Even separation from creation and the beauty it can behold. The air in Beijing is so foul this week that with every breath those of us breathing it know that we are separated from what is normal, healthy and good.
Not that I sinned in leaving them. No, that was not sin – but a mirror of the pain that comes with separation.
What is the first thing that Adam and Eve did after disobeying God? They hid out of fear. They were separated from him. Before they had walked with God, enjoying the garden with him, but now they were huddled behind some trees in their homemade fig leaf skirts, experiencing the pain of separation. God in his infinite mercy reached out to them and made them more permanent garments, putting a plan in motion to bridge the gap and close the distance.
Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans that as believers nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God and I believe him. I wonder what heaven will be like when we will be able to experience being apart from people and yet not feel loss, or pain, or sorrow. Until then, I do feel the pain of separation.