Milestones are markers on life’s journey that signify important accomplishments. I have just passed a couple of them. One was another birthday anniversary for me which happened yesterday. Because of where it comes in the calendar I find it often coincides with other important events — like the end of the school term, the end of a season, the longest day of the year, and the beginning of summer holidays. I feel very blessed to have my birthday when it happens because it’s a time of other celebrations as well. For me it often falls at the same time as I wrap up a season of ministry, too.
This year, the other milestone of my life was finishing up a ten-month pastoral transition role at a church in southern British Columbia. This milestone was marked by a final opportunity to address the church with a biblical message from 3 John, and to enjoy a celebration of it all that also included a recognition of high-school graduates. Following the Service the church provided a BBQ for the grads and an opportunity for Carolyn and me to say a final farewell to people that had become precious in my brief pastoral sojourn there. On Monday, we packed up my collection of things from the church-provided apartment and we were on our way before noon. The experience of leaving that place was both bitter and sweet!
A lot of milestones in life have both of those elements. On one hand, it is a testimony to God’s faithfulness that one has arrived at an important juncture in the journey, but it also is a time of sadness because one has to say “goodbye” to the accumulated blessings of the past in that part of the journey. Those blessings consist of all the experiences in conversations, relationships, and occasions that have made life so rich during that time. Often, what started out as a difficult journey, or at least involved some challenging moments, turned out (through trust and prayer) to be amazing experiences of God’s grace. During the actual transition work I recall that there were instances of strain in assignments, conversations, and meetings.
But what surprised me time and time again was the response of people to the whole experience. I’m sure not everyone necessarily shared the same feelings about the value of our time together, but overall I was left with a wonderful sense of God’s goodness in the transition experience. By the end of my time, we had grown much in our love and appreciation for one another and, as indicated by the expressions of affection at our “farewell,” there was a very strong sense that the transition time had been a very valuable learning and growing experience for the church. So I left with a sense of deep gratitude to the church and to God for His great love and faithfulness to us all.
Milestones of every kind are a cause for pause — times to reflect on one’s journey and to mark God’s goodness and faithfulness. Milestones are not ordinary or frequent experiences in the course of one’s life. Rather they come at the end of a time of intense engagement, at the end of a project, or on the occasion of an important anniversary. Properly considered, milestones are great opportunities to look back, usually with others, upon the terrain that has been covered. They are opportunities to establish a platform of perspective on the past and the future — to affirm deep-rooted, often unconsciously held, values. Over time, milestones define the culture of an organization or family. Together they form a trajectory of vision and mission. Milestones are great opportunities to show what the vision and mission of a person or organization are all about.
To some degree, I have to give credit for this concept to Bobb Biehl who writes about Milestones in his book, Masterplanning (2005). According to Biehl, milestones are occasions of encouragement in the face of discouragement. They instill confidence. And I would add that from a Christian perspective, milestones demonstrate that God is faithful to His promises and to His calling in our lives. Milestones are occasion for praise and worship for God’s goodness. To this end, and in this way, the children of Israel marked God’s faithfulness in their journeys with various festivals and holydays. For this reason, I think it is important for churches to identify milestones or anniversaries in their journeys too. These can be great occasions for rallying constituents to greater endeavours in the future.
As I celebrate the milestone of another birthday and of the completion of a good season of transition ministry in a particular church, I am encouraged by the evidence of God’s faithfulness and calling in my own life. I have a little time just now to look at this milestone and to consider how this accomplishment might provide confidence and direction for my life in the future. I hope it is also true for the church I have just served — that as its people come to this juncture, they can take courage for the future in the knowledge of God’s faithfulness thus also gaining perspective on how to move forward in the journey before them.