If there’s one question that will start a firestorm of opinion and emotion, it is…

What’s the worst TV show finale you’ve ever seen?

One of my good friends will take every opportunity to express her great disgust for the ending of White Collar. And despite the four years that have passed, fans (or former fans) of How I Met Your Mother will not hesitate to tell you today exactly how terrible that show’s ending was. And though it aired two full years ago, I am still not over the ridiculous way Castle ended its eight-year run.

Lots of people feel just as strongly about the finales of everything from Newhart toThe Sopranos. Sometimes it isn’t one episode that upsets fans; other times it’s an entire final season, like with Scrubs, That 70’s Show, and — many would say — Gilmore Girls. And more than just being disappointed or angered by an episode or even a season, many previously die-hard fans get so worked up that they vow to never watch or speak well of their beloved show again. For them the ending erases any affection they may have had for the show. They’re just…finished.

But does it have to be that way?

Does a bad ending necessarily negate any good that came before it?
If you lose the championship game, does your undefeated season leading up to it no longer count?
Is the end result, the final goal, the finish line all that matters? Or does the journey itself have value?
Does a bad finale ruin a great season?

Two of my best friends from college no longer speak to me. Though it’s been nearly two decades, it’s a loss that still saddens me deeply. For years I couldn’t think of them without crying, and not a week went by without me thinking of them. However, life goes on and while time might not erase all wounds, it will eventually heal them a bit. Still, those friendships didn’t end well and — despite my one-time assumption that they’d last forever — they did, in fact, end.

Does that mean I can’t look back on the time we spent together with fondness? Does that mean our friendships during those crucial years of undergrad were invalid or unimportant? Because of a later fallout?

I don’t think so.

Now, sure, the nature of those relationships’ end does color how I see the years we were close. I realize now that I saw many parts of those relationships differently than my friends did. But it does not mean we didn’t love each other for four years. It doesn’t take away the laughter and tears, the studying and eating and discussing and debating and general hanging out we shared. I refuse to let our bad endings take that from me.

And the same thing goes for my favorite TV shows.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the finale of How I Met Your Mother was terrible, for a host of reasons. I didn’t like it (though, admittedly, I didn’t hate it nearly as much as so many others). But do I still watch reruns and enjoy them thoroughly? You bet.

Does merely the thought of that last scene of Castle drive my blood pressure through the roof and launch me into a detailed explanation of why it was so. very. stupid? Yes. Yes, it does. But did that stop me from telling a friend (who has not watched the show) that she should absolutely watch it this week, from telling her it was — and remains — one of my favorite shows, from smiling as I think about how much I love it still? Not at all.

TV and life are often intertwined in my mind, and this question of endings is no exception.

When I think of my first real job out of college — the one that overworked and underpaid me, the one that made clear what the “burnout” I’d read about in grad school meant, the one that I quit in desperation without having a new job secured — do you think I frown and roll my eyes and cry? Nope. Not anymore.

I smile and nod my head and gush a little bit, because what I hold onto today is how, for the first full year I had that job, I could not believe I got paid to do what I loved. I remember how much I learned and all the parts I loved and the amazing friendships I formed and the life lessons I took with me. It took me a while to get to this place, but the truth is: I loved that job so, so much — and the last, torturous, failure- and frustration-filled year can’t take that from me.

A few weeks ago our church celebrated its 10-year anniversary. In the weeks leading up to it and the morning of the big celebration event, I was surprised by my reaction. Of course I was excited and happy for our church, for our pastors who started this community, this family, for God’s work in so many lives and in our community. I was amazed and grateful, and I loved taking time to appreciate how much God has done in a short time and all the ways we can see, in hindsight, He prepared the way for our church and its journey.

But I also couldn’t stop crying.

Every time they mentioned it this spring — Don’t forget! Our10-year anniversary celebration is coming up! This is an event you don’t want to miss! Mark your calendars now! — I cried. And for the 90 minutes I sat in that celebration service, worshipping and listening and smiling in awe and gratitude, I cried.

What on earth? I mean, yes, my tendency to be a big, ol’ crybaby who cries is well-known. But this was extreme. This was unusual, even for me.

Finally, I realized what was going on. The celebration of our church’s milestone was a reminder of another church’s failure. Thirteen years ago my husband and I were part of a brand-new church, and it didn’t last one year, much less ten. That season was one of the most difficult, life-altering, heart-breaking that we’ve ever experienced. It hurt us, and it changed us. And for years — so many years! — we went from talking about it nonstop to barely being able to mention any part of it.

As I stood in a theater full of smiling, happy people, unable to stop the tears coursing down my face (even though both my husband and daughter asked, repeatedly, “What is WRONG?!”), I realized they weren’t all sad tears.

Sure, some of that celebration was bittersweet for me as I reflected on what might have been and what will never be. But it was also a personal celebration for me as I took in the full circle, the big picture, the redemption story that God has been drawing in our lives. It was a time to look back with clear eyes and a peaceful heart; it was a time to let go.

For so long the traumatic ending of that church plant has colored the memories of the years leading up to it. My heart and mind confused the pain of that season’s finale with the overall joy we found in the friendships we developed, the fun we had, the countless things we learned and ways we grew. Some relationships came to a close when our association with that church ended, and that was hard. Really hard. But it doesn’t mean we didn’t love those people then, that we don’t still care for them now.

If you’re having trouble separating your feelings about a bad ending with your memories of a great season, you’re not alone. I’ve been there — both as a disgruntled TV fan and as a failed church planter, fundraiser, and friend. It’s hard to remember the good things that led up to a disappointment, a heartbreak, a really bad ending, or just an unwanted ending. But you can do it.

You can refuse to let a disappointment or heartbreak steal the joy of what came before.
You can hold onto your memories of a more innocent time, before you knew what was coming later.
You can preserve the wonder, the gratitude, the love you felt about someone or something before everything changed.
You can be grateful for the ways you can see God’s fingerprints in both seasons of hardship and seasons of abundance.
You can reject the idea that a bad ending ruins a great season.

Is there a part of your history you need to rewrite, again? Can you process and learn from a bad ending, while still appreciating the goodness that led up to it? Is it possible to be grateful for the whole experience, even the hard parts but especially the good ones?

Is it possible that a bad ending doesn’t have to ruin a great season?

Middle photo by Alex Ronsdorf on Unsplash

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