I recently traveled with Janice to the Great Pacific Northwest to attend the wedding of one of our friend's children. We have known Rick and Sue for years as co-laborers, friends, prayer partners, and fellow pilgrims in a strange land looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. It is interesting to me that seeing long time friends is like traveling back in time and into the future concurrently. We have so many reference points in our shared history we pick up conversations as though the gap of 5 to 10 to 20 years between each simply hasn't happened and yet...we traverse new ground each time we are together because our lives are not static but growing. We have new leadership experiences to share, new questions to explore, new victories to rejoice in and new grief to shoulder together. Life is not static and neither is our friendship.
An occasion like a wedding offers a myriad of opportunities to engage this simultaneous time travel of past and future. We saw friends and acquaintances we have not seen for years. We caught up, we shared perspectives on the past that illuminated the future and explained things we did not understand when we experienced them together. One encounter was particularly moving.
"Steve," I said to one friend who was so significant in my first pastorate, "we have missed you." Steve and I picked up conversations past and future.
"Ray," he inquired, "why didn't you return to visit?" His eyes were penetrating, looking for explanation, testing my response, and expressing pain.
"We were prohibited from returning to our first pastorate to visit by the pastor who took our place. We repeatedly asked for permission to visit and were repeatedly prohibited. It was his prerogative in the governance structure of the denomination."
Steve's eyes began to fill with tears, "I didn't know that," he said. "Dave was so insecure...." his voice trailed off and his hug said he had always wondered why we had just disappeared from the scene when our assignment wooed us out of the Northwest to Southern California. I don't know why Steve thought we made our selves scarce, but in our conversation and in our shared bear hugs whatever questions and pain from the past melted into oblivion and our shared past shed light on a shared future. We talked about future opportunities and support of one another in networking and prayer.
What a joy to have friends across time. Some friends are constant companions in the journey, we connect every time we can, like Rick and Sue. We meet up in the UK, the Northwest, the Southwest, or any other place our paths cross. Other friends are like beacons along the path we see on occasion. Our contacts are episodic, spaced by time, but no less precious when the connection occurs. There is something encouraging about seeing each other like distance runners at a turn in the course we cheer each other on and take courage from the fact we are still in the race.
And of course, there are those acquaintances we saw who caused us great pain, friends who betrayed our friendship. What about these? We had a couple of these encounters. Were they awkward? No, surprisingly. They were filled with grace. Forgiveness has long ago released us from the want of revenge and the pain of betrayal. And they apparently also extended forgiveness and like us have grown and changed. The past and the future collided in these encounters with healing and an uncertain future. It is possible to be free of the pain of the past yet remain unreconciled - no longer enemies filled with suspicion but also no longer close. There is a grace in this as well, to embrace with a love that forgives and offers a future that if taken may result in a new friendship.
The longer I am around, the more intrigued I am by this time travel of past and future connection. Friends are a comfort, they are teachers, they are counselors, they are examples, and they are a reminder of what is most significant in life. Nurture your friendships they pull out your best, show you your worst, and offer you a path to a different future.