Great endings are both surprising and inevitable. In Empire Strikes Back, Luke confronts Vader but learns the truth of their relationship. In Seven, Brad Pitt fulfills the killer’s master plan but also clarifies Morgan Freeman’s worldview. In Toy Story 3, Andy gives the toys away. The surprise of a great ending comes from circumstance, and the inevitability comes from what we know about the characters. It’s hard to believe what’s happening, but it’s impossible to imagine things going any other way, and it’s a satisfying paradox because it proves catharsis and finality can be achieved within the unexpected, which often feels confusing, challenging, or painful.

In fiction, endings punctuate stories with succinct themes or messages, but in real life, endings are strapped with more long-term reflection, because life goes on, and if we don’t arbitrate endings or conclusions for ourselves we’ll never take stock of the change or growth we’ve experienced. That’s how we become reactive or impulsive.

During Grace’s House Rules series, the pastors have said every week the church values they’re discussing are definitive rather than aspirational. These sermons describe the church as it is now rather than an idea of what the church wants to be, and while it might seem like a weird flex (our hospitality is radical), the public proclamation of these values is really a self-definition meant to a) communicate the church’s implicit methodology in an explicit way, and b) create a system of accountability as the stated values become, essentially, promises of what Grace Church will look like (any church can provide plain glazed Krispy Kreme donuts every service, but offering a variety, including crème-filled and long johns, is radical, man).

In another sense, treating House Rules as a moment of self-definition creates a punctuation mark for Grace. It’s capping all the trials, successes, and lessons that brought it to the point where it can hold these 11 values and actually follow through on them. It’s arbitrated, but the reflection it inspires is valuable, and it feels particularly valuable for me because I’m saying goodbye to Grace to accept a job in Pennsylvania.

I’ve been leaving things my entire adult life, it seems, which makes this ending between myself and Grace feel inevitable. Since graduating high school seven years ago, I’ve moved to a new city, sight unseen, four times for college or work, and the transition always comes with an ease that feels sort of disturbing. Mobility is a requirement for a staffed magazine writer in 2019, but that normalcy doesn’t make it any less difficult to reconcile how I’ve become really good at leaving things behind and starting over.

But that’s why this ending between myself and Grace is surprising, too, because this was the first time I’ve ever felt like I belonged at a church. For someone who grew up in a non-Christian home and began a relationship with Jesus as he was rushing a frat in college (pour one out for the mistakes I never made thanks to that incredibly lame timing), it was a game-changer. Grace proved to me a church could feel like home.

The Christian life is only punctuated by commas, never periods.

There’s almost always sacrifice in an ending, and that’s painful, but one of the most impossible concepts of the Christian life is how Jesus redeems this pain. The Christian life is only punctuated by commas, never periods. A relationship with Christ is on an eternal timeline, which means the same between two followers of Christ.

When Christianity is reduced to platitudes, eternal life functions as a cosmic safety net, because when you live forever, all goodbyes are temporary and none of your regrets matter. It’s comforting to live under these conditions, but when you scrutinize the concept it turns into an immense challenge. After all, the implications of infinity are in themselves infinite. By nature of our broken state’s blunted short-sightedness, there are consequences of eternity we can’t anticipate. It’s intimidating.

Eternal life means relationships can always be reconciled. It means Christians will experience a forever-long perfecting process even within their perfect heavenly bodies. It means God—by His own nature infinite—will never stop inspiring His people, never stop revealing new aspects of Himself, and never stop pouring out His glory over His kingdom. We can’t fathom it. We can’t even come close.

But if we can just grasp the idea that eternal life is approaching (or already here, seeing as Paul describes Christians as “citizens of heaven”), that understanding alone means we start to see our relationships differently. Ourselves differently, too.

For Christian relationships, eternal life contains two terrifying promises: 1) We will experience profound separations (thanks to hell), and 2) we will experience glorious reunions (in heaven). The truth of hell is soul-wrenching and devastating, of course, but in its way, so is the truth of heaven. We like to choose the endings of our relationships, and heaven means we can’t. Intellectually, it’s easy to see how joining with all of God’s people and worshiping Him will be a paradise, but if we apply human experience to that vision, there’s a fear factor. Here and now, the church is characterized by posturing and competition because of the imperfect people inside it. Our biases, bitterness, and disappointment corrupts even our Christian relationships, and while we know it will be different in heaven, it’s hard not to project our human experience into that vision because it’s the only template we have.

Seeing ourselves in light of eternity is easier because we tend to have more grace with ourselves than others. Eternity from our standpoint is hopeful because it allows us to expect the idealized version of ourselves we hope to become. What’s more, eternity grants us the patience to move in that direction—we have forever, after all. The Bible assure us the grace of God will orient our hearts more and more toward Him forever. It’s easy to rest in that.

The refining process of grace isn’t automatic, however. God asks us to open our hearts—the core of ourselves—to His grace, and this is the other side of House Rules. As much as this series is a definition of what Grace Church is, it’s a prescription as well. By examining its past and present, Grace is laying the foundation of its future. That’s why the pastors are talking so much about the five-year and ten-year plans of Grace; the House Rules have exposed the church’s strengths and weaknesses, which illuminate its proper course of decision-making.

As we as individuals face our own endings, arbitrary as they might be, we face a similar impetus. Endings compel us to think about the change in our lives, and they orient us toward future change. For Christians, this means taking stock of the ways God’s grace has worked in our hearts and the ways we’ve shut His grace out, then applying those truths to our future. It’s a revealing process, because often God’s grace works in secret, and it can only be seen in hindsight

The Christian life promises that even when circumstances are surprising, our future with Jesus is inevitable.

Leaving Orlando was a massively uncomfortable decision for me, but looking back, God had been submerging me in discomfort for months leading up to that critical moment. He tore down things I trusted and knocked things aside that were taking hold of my identity. He picked my life apart until I had no choice but to place all my trust and identity in Him alone. That was the real step of faith, more than the job offer, that took me out of Orlando. This move is the best thing for me, and God knew it. It’s surprising, but inevitable.

The lessons that come with endings are propulsive. When Jesus used His dying breath on the Cross to say, “It is finished” (pretty hardcore, no lie), He wasn’t just alluding to His death’s immediate consequences—paying for the sin of humanity—He was issuing a guarantee that death would be conquered and evil would be defeated forevermore. His words had both instant meaning and far-reaching foreshadowing, and this duality creates a holistic assurance that is the truest peace we can find.

Life between commas, then, can contain a similar peace, even if the only conclusions we have are the ones we invent for reflection’s sake. The Christian life promises that even when circumstances are surprising, our future with Jesus is inevitable. That’s why the proclamation of these House Rules is transformative for Grace rather than cementing, and it’s how leaving Orlando doesn’t mean the permanent loss of a home, but the opportunity to carry the lessons of a devastating, instructive, restorative period forward and build another one.