Goodbye 2019: A Year-End Liturgy of Letting Go

For the final Sunday of 2019 at our church we held a “Goodbye 2019” service.

For the final Sunday of 2019 at our church we held a “Goodbye 2019” service.

The idea was simple: curate spiritual practices to create space for people to reflect back on 2019, and in their reflection grieve what was lost, remember and honor their pain, find gratitude for the darkness, and let go of what might be holding us back.

It was a meaningful (and in its own way, fun!) experience and it went a little something like this — feel free to play along at home, if you’d like. (Here’s the Spotify Playlist with all the songs we played/sang)

OPENING SONG
Your Love is Strong, by Jon Foreman.
Chosen to start our time together, as it calls us to the strength and provision of Love.

PRAYER OF INTENTION
We are Here, Now, by Colby Martin
I wrote this as a call-and-response reading, as a way to ground our Self in the present moment and turn our minds toward the Divine.

SONG
Free, by Gungor
Chosen for how it reflects upon a world at war… caught in suffering… in desperate times and brutality… and yet insists that love dares us to see how we can find freedom as we let the light in.

SONG W/ MEDITATION
Christ Be All Around Me, by All Sons and Daughters
Before singing this song, I invited everyone to close their eyes and think back to a moment/time/situation in 2019 when they felt lost, confused, needing guidance and hope. Then we sang this song as though we were in that place, for this song is a prayer that Christ (aka, the Divine Presence in all things and all people) would be our help and guide.

PRACTICE #1: SEPARATING OUR IDENTITY FROM OUR STORIES

For this first practice, Kate (my wife and coPastor) passed out sheets of paper divided in to two columns. On the left side it said, “My Identity,” on the right side, “My Story.”

The practice involved writing on the left side things that are true about us, about who we really are (aka, loved child of God, brave, compassionate, kind). Then on the right side we reflect back on something that happened to us this year. Some specific story or situation.

Then we invited people to come up to an altar and use a paper cutter to cut their paper in half, literally separating who they ARE from their story. Because the things we do, or what happens to us, is NOT who we are.

People held on to the left side (list of what is true about them) and stuffed the now-divided right side of the paper into a jar, a collective holding of all our stories.

The paper cutter used to separate our IDENTITY from our STORY, and the jar holding our collective stories.

SONGS SUNG DURING PRACTICE #1

Nothing’s Right, by Birdtalker
Chosen for how it gives voice to that part of us that feels like sometimes nothing feels right. Standout lyrics include:

Tell me again how you can talk to God
And how he tells you what to do
And how you’re sure it’s not your own damn voice
Disguised as something absolute

The bonds of friendship, and brotherly love,
The silver lining, the holy dove,
Sometimes it all just tastes like dust

No Longer Slaves, by Bethel Music
To be sure, I’m disheartened by the recent buddy-buddying of Bethel leaders and President Trump, yet this song is still a stand-out and has become one of Sojourn’s anthems over the years. Chosen here because it reminds us over and over again how we are a child of God — which is the truest thing about us.

PRACTICE #2: WRITING THANK YOU CARDS TO THE SOURCE OF OUR DARKNESS

Kate then passed out Thank You cards and envelopes to everyone and shared a line from Mary Oliver:

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

We were invited to look back on 2019 and think about someone (or a situation) that gave us a “box full of darkness.” A friend who betrayed us, family member who wounded us, a situation which left us clammoring and empty.

We then spent time writing out a Thank You card to that person (or situation), attempting to find the “gift” in it all.

The surprise twist ending? When people were done writing, we invited them to place the card in the envelope, write their own name and address on the front, and leave the card in a bowl up front. We then told them that in six months we would mail this card back to them, giving everyone a mid 2020 reminder of that one time they found the gift in the darkness of 2019.

Thank You cards we wrote to friends that wounded us or situations that left us for dead — which we will then mail back to the author in six months.

SONGS SUNG DURING PRACTICE #2

Be Where You Are, by Birdtalker
This song is a gorgeous invitation to be precisely where we are. To accept this, the present moment. Standout lines include:

I see you running from your shadow
How can I ask you please to stay?
You can run ’til you’ve got nothing left
We’ll still end up face to face

Don’t be afraid of how you feel
Don’t look for life in past or future
Look right at it dead in the eye
After this moment there’s a new one

Have you been using all the noise
To avoid meeting your mess
You don’t have to work so hard
Just stop and take a breath

I know that it gets lonely and dark
And it feels hard
And I know that you want to close off
your heart

Be where you are
Be where you are

All My Favorite People, by Over the Rhine
Many people (attempted to) write Thank You cards to a person who wounded them in 2019. This song is much-needed reminder that all people are broken, all people have issues, and most of us are doing the best we can. Standout lines include:

Is each wound you’ve received
Just a burdensome gift?
It gets so hard to lift
Yourself up off the ground

But the poet says, We must praise the mutilated world
We’re all workin’ the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me
My heart should know
As for your tender heart —
This world’s gonna rip it wide open
It ain’t gonna be pretty
But you’re not alone

PRACTICE #3: LETTING GO OF SUFFERING

Next, we passed out strips of special paper that dissolves entirely when placed in water.

On each strip were the words, “LETTING GO,” followed by three different prompts. We invited people to consider where in their life they might be contributing to their own suffering.

The three areas were: Comparison to others (we suffer when we constantly look at our peers and think we’re some how not doing enough, or not farther along, or not making enough money, etc); Punishing ourselves (we suffer when we don’t let ourselves off the hook, sure maybe you said/did something stupid last year, but maybe it’s time to forgive yourself and show some self-grace); and Attachment to Desire (we suffer when we hold too tightly to things we desire, creating a sort of dis-ease when we don’t get it).

Everyone was invited to write out a response to one, two, or all three of the prompts, then come forward to a large bowl of water and drop in their paper (which magically dissolves!) as a way to Let these things Go.

What a bowl of water looks like after 100 people LET GO of their suffering.

SONGS SUNG DURING PRACTICE #3

Love Anyway, by Drew & Ellie Holcomb
If you’ve not heard this song yet, do it. I love it so much. It’s a challenge to respond to the shattering of our hopes with “loving anyway,” to respond to the breaking of our hearts with “loving anyway,” and so on. Standout lines include:

when all your hopes are shattered
and you feel like your soul is a sea
your dreams don’t seem to matter
your heart is bruised and battered
you can’t feel anything

when your world has gone to hell
no story left to tell,
love anyway

Heavy, by Birdtalker
This has also become an anthem song at Sojourn. It encapsulates to much of what we’re about and why we do what we do. It’s about seeing each other’s sadness and being together in our sorrow. It’s about letting go of what holds us back, leaving the heavy things behind. It’s about replacing fear with love. It’s so, so good.

If you’re lost and lonely,
Go and figure out why
Take a trip to your dark side,
Go on and have a good cry
Cause we’re all lonely… together.

Leave what’s heavy,
What’s heavy behind

If your face is down,
Take a look around
Do your fingers move?
Do your lungs inflate?
Are you tired are you weary of the hidden hate
You’ve been holding?
Did you lose that love,
Or have you never had it
Are you feeling sad because you did a bad thing

The only way to lose that fearful feeling
Replace it with love that’s healing

Leave what’s heavy,
What’s heavy behind

PRACTICE #4: COMMUNION & CANDLE LIGHTING

Our final practice was to partake in communion (the bread and the cup) which we do every Sunday at Sojourn.

All are invited — no matter creed, gender, sexual orientation or identity — to receive these symbols of grace, these tangible reminders of what is most true: they are loved, fully loved, just as they are.

This was true for all of 2019, and will be true for all of the coming year.

After people received communion we also invited them to light a candle to honor anyone they may have lost this year, either in death or in broken relationship.

An altar to honor those we’ve lost in 2019

SONGS SUNG DURING COMMUNION

Christ Be All Around Me, by All Sons and Daughters
We came back to this song, but this time instead of singing it from the perspective of our past, we sang it as a prayer moving ahead. May Christ be the light to guide us, the hand to hold us, and the rest to bring us peace.

Head to the Heart, by United Pursuit
Finally, we belted out this glorious rally cry to conclude our service. This song speaks to the journey of deep truths making their way from our heads — where we might know things to be — to our hearts — where we can feel them in our bones, embody them in our being. Standout lines include:

From the head to the heart
you take me on a journey
of letting go, and getting lost in you

There’s no shame
In looking like a fool
When I give you what I can’t keep
and take a hold of you

Our “Goodbye 2019” service was beautiful in every way. Everyone who came truly leaned in, participated, and engaged with the spiritual practices. I dusted off my old worship leading chops and led the music for the service, overwhelmed as I watched our community practice such courage and love.

Part of what it means to be in community is to go through all the parts of life together. Not just celebrating the good things, but honoring and being witness to the hard. To grieve together. To hold. To honor the battles we fought (especially the ones we lost).

I’m so blessed to be a part of community like Sojourn Grace Collective.

2019 was hard.
But we did it.
Together.