Last week we spent two marvelous days with old friends. Tad and I met each other in 1965 through my brother Peter, and started seminary together the next year. He was the best man in my wedding and I was a groomsman in his, both more than forty years ago. We shared the last two years of seminary together as young couples just starting out.
Our conversations roamed throughout four decades of God’s faithfulness, spanning many countries and several continents. Together we enjoyed the sunrise over the inlet on which they live; the sunset across a wintry field; the full moon in a clear, frigid sky. The four of us read the Bible separately before breakfast, warmed by the fire in the fireplace, fresh tea, and the presence of a loving God who speaks only truth ( a bit like Mr. Nightly in Jane Austen’s “Emma,” which we had watched the night before).
After breakfast, we meditated on Psalm 90 together. Truly, God has been our dwelling place over the years, through many moves, despite our many sins. We admitted our folly and unbelief, noted the just consequences of folly and sin, and marveled at our Lord’s mercy. Amazingly, we can boldly ask him to show us his steadfast love, make us glad for as many days as he has afflicted us (we do not complain, but we do mourn), show us his favor and beauty, and even establish the works of our feeble, faltering hands.
We filled hours with tales of God’s thrilling work around the world – in China, India, Africa, even the U.S. How privileged we feel to be both witnesses of, and partners with, the Lord’s servants in other cultures who are risking much to spread the Gospel to those who haven’t heard! A hundred people came out on a very cold night to hear a lecture about the growth of the Chinese church, encouraging us by their warm interest in a people whose nation seems to threaten ours at every turn.
Inevitably, our conversation turned also to sadder themes: Children who face temptations we never knew; classmates whose marriages crumbled long ago; apostate churches. Parents never cease loving their children or carrying their troubles in our hearts. Conscious of our failures in the past, we’re all trying to learn how to entrust them to our own heavenly Father, who alone can take good care of them now.
Though we don’t want to admit it, we are no longer young. Aches and pains, loss of the energy of youth, and the prospect of the end of life injected a note of sobriety into our otherwise mostly joy-filled hours. There’s even the fear of aging and illness. But not terror, for we comforted each other with reminders of the sure and certain hope we have of resurrection life with Christ and his saints.
All too soon, we had to say, “Goodbye,” and retrace our journey to Charlottesville, where we welcomed another old friend into our home for a night. Though we’ve only known him since 1978, we share common experiences in Taiwan and in Chinese culture. Once again, both the goodness and the severity of God permeated our conversation. Goodness towards us despite our wanderings, and severity towards us for disobedience. Once again, we bowed our heads in humble gratitude for his mercy and unwavering faithfulness to his erring children.
And once again we had to bid farewell to someone who will return to challenges that only God can give strength to meet.
How thankful we are for old friends! There is nothing like them.
But we can’t cling to their companionship, for our paths have diverged and may not intersect again for quite a while.
Meanwhile, we are grateful for new friends, close companions on our common journey to a Place where all our friends, both old and new, will someday settle down for an eternity of life together in Paradise.