They all cried as they embraced and kissed him [Paul] good-bye. They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship. Acts 2:37-38 NLT
Growing up back in the 20th century, long before Facebook and social media, a pastor or Sabbath School teacher we all loved would move away. It seemed there would always be one member of the congregation or Sabbath School class who would keep in fairly regular contact with the pastor after he moved. Through this member we would hear about the pastor’s current mission trips and his daughter’s graduation and marriage. Looking back now, it never occurred to me to get the former pastor’s contact information. It was enough to hear the stories through that one member who kept in contact, and I suppose subconsciously, in the back of my mind, I assumed if I ever needed to talk to the former pastor again personally, all I had to do was get his number from that one member who had it. Before social media, we still had a healthy and balanced way to stay in touch.
Often I read memes about lifelong friendships and how wonderful they are -and yes, they are! I treasure my friends with whom I discuss current events, while remembering going through Watergate together. A couple weeks ago I shared a story about a lifelong friend who had to remind me of an accident I had decades ago. That was very special, albeit embarrassing. Yes, lifelong friendships are very special, but don’t let that distract from the specialness of the friendships that didn’t last a lifetime.
While I was in first grade, my family moved into a home just a couple blocks from the church school, so I moved with them. Next door lived Hans who was my exact age. In no time we were playing together all the time. He was into puppetry, and we even did a puppet skit on a local cable TV station. We played super heroes and on certain summer nights would sleep outside in the treehouse, with the plans of waking up at 4 am to go fight crime. Looking back I thank God I never could wake him up. No telling what trouble we would have run into. Later in middle school, we started drifting apart, and in our teens, we still lived next door, but we seldom saw each other at all. He had his public school friends and his music. Even as a little boy he loved playing the “Entertainer” on the piano with his front door wide open. To this day I can’t hear that song without thinking of Hans.
Anyway Hans and I drifted apart, and for the last few years we were neighbors we were basically strangers. However, there were times in high school when I was struggling with Algebra and Geometry. Hans was great at math, and he would let me come over so he could explain it to me. I would thank him, and he would express his pleasure at being able to help me. Then I would go back home. That was the extent of our friendship at that point.
At the turn of the 21st century, I learned from his sister that Hans was living in New York City. (His sister turned out to be a lifelong friend.) About this time I got my first computer with Internet capabilities, and I had some questions. Hans was into computers. So I called him up, and once again he enthusiastically helped me out. Once again, I thanked him, he said I was welcome, we hung up and have never spoken since. Ever since 7th or 8th grade Hans has had his own friends, hobbies, career and a life that I simply haven’t fit into since around 6th grade. I love staying in touch with people. I love lifelong friends. At the same time I realize it is not practical or even healthy and balanced to expect everyone from my past to still be an active friend today. That would be about as silly as a playwriter putting the entire cast into every single scene. The entire cast does not belong in every single scene, not even the star. It would be about as crazy as a field goal kicker expecting his coach to put him in on every play. That’s not how it works or how you win games.
There is a time for actors, once they have served their purpose, to make their final exit from the play. Solomon’s wisdom teaches us there is a purpose for every season, but seasons change and so do our needs, and so do the needs of our friends. But while we celebrate lifelong friendships, let’s remember the wisdom of Solomon and also celebrate those wonderful friendships that did not last a lifetime. They still served their purpose. Every friendship, be it ever so brief, serves a purpose and brings a lesson. While my friend Hans had moved on with his life and really did not need me in it, he was still there when I needed him for Algebra. Through him I have learned how to move on in my life and leave some people alone, while leaving the door wide open for that moment when I may actually be able to serve them again. That’s why I also came up with the analogy of the field goal kicker. While the field goal kicker is not needed on every play, he is needed to be on the sidelines throughout the entire game, for that one moment he is needed to kick the winning field goal as time expires. Just because the coach seldom puts the kicker in on a play does not mean he does not value the kicker – he does! Just because your friend called another friend for lunch today without calling you does not mean your friend does not value you. We don’t have to be in on every “play” to be valued and appreciated.
Let’s learn from the stranger who helped us fix that flat tire and then disappeared into the night never to be seen again. He came and taught us kindness, served his purpose and exited the scene. He doesn’t even need to exchange Christmas cards. He taught us a lesson, served his purpose and that was enough.
Let’s learn from the Sabbath School teacher who harped on that one idea all the time till it drove you crazy. You haven’t seen or heard from her since the turn of the century. But sitting in Sabbath School class last week, a question came up, and you remembered what she said so many years ago. You used it to help someone last Sabbath understand the point a little more clearly.
My ex-fiancé dumped me over 20 years ago, but I still remember how she showed me to add sour cream to mashed potatoes and gravy. I still love making them that way to this day. And as I look back, I learned some important lessons from that relationship that are more important than mashed potatoes and gravy. I learned some hard lessons that have helped me in my relationships today. I am glad she was a part of my life!
While the blessings of lifelong friendships are amazing beyond words, let’s not forget to celebrate the friendships that didn’t last a lifetime. After all, those friendships were not in vain, even though they did not last. They served their purpose and they taught us valuable lessons that last a lifetime.