A couple of years ago my wife and I experienced a separation anxiety that we had never before tasted. We had sent a few kids off to college by then. We had sent one to China for a month. We’re not the ultra-clingy type of parents that can never be away from our kids.
But this time was different. Our oldest son and his lovely wife went to spend a year serving in Honduras (read about it on Lessons from Honduras). Within a couple of months of arriving in the small town in western Honduras, our son contracted dengue fever. He was very ill. And we were very scared.
It’s always hard to let your kids go off into the world to make their way. It’s so very much harder when they’re going through something so scary and you simply cannot go to them.
Paul seems to have had a similar kind of worry—a genuine separation anxiety—for the believers in 1 Thessalonians. Having recalled the parental tenor of the relationships he had with them and recognizing the enduring faith that they had grown into, he confesses his struggle.
“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thess 2.17-20)
He says they were “torn away” from them. Luke relates the account of their time in Thessalonica and the huge uproar that was stirred up by the Jews that come to oppose them (Acts 17.1-10). He writes that the believers there “immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.”
So, abruptly, suddenly, the team had to flee the city. Seeing the way he describes his nurturing, motherly care for them and his compelling, encouraging, fatherly responsibility for them, I can just imagine how gut-wrenching that must have been.
Paul explains that he and his team wanted to return and see how they were doing. He asserts that they were hindered from returning by Satan.
His longing is explained as he says that this church, this family of believers, was “our hope or joy or crown of boasting.” These precious souls that Paul and his team had poured so much of themselves into were indeed, as he wrote, “our glory and joy.”
I get it. I have six amazing kids that I never shy away from writing or talking about. I cherish the time I get to spend with them. Sometimes just wondering how they are doing can be unbearable.
I look back over almost 18 years of pastoring and I faces begin to scroll across my mind… people that I have had the privilege to introduce to my Savior or challenge and strive to equip their growth.
Those amazing kids God put in my charge and all of the believers God has allowed me to pour into are truly the only glory I have ever had in this life. And in each I find great joy.
I understand joy to be the consciousness or awareness of grace.
One of the most amazing demonstrations of God’s great grace is that you and I, just like Paul, get to be a involved in His work of building lives. The cost of that involvement for our hearts is the difficult reality of separation anxiety. But, as Paul will soon remind us, the separation is ultimately temporary.
We will meet again.