I said good-bye to a dear friend tonight. She left with her family, headed to a Middle Eastern country where they live as light and salt among the Muslims they love, expanding the Kingdom with every footstep. She would be embarrassed to know that I am writing about her in such a public forum, but my heart is full of love and appreciation for her and I am spilling over.
It is almost a cliché in evangelical circles to say that a woman has a “gentle and quiet spirit.” Where I come from, this verse is used typically to beat women over the head who happen to be more vocal, educated, or opinionated than others. In the case of my friend, however, “gentle and quiet spirit” is a most fitting description. I daresay if you had the honor of meeting her, you would agree that she is an embodiment of the words.
I must clarify, however, that these traits are born not of natural shyness. My friend had been a successful business owner—not a career for the shy and withdrawn. Nor are they the products of will power, as is often the case with women who are shouting their opinion on the inside, but have learned the art of muffling themselves on the outside. She does not try to be gentle and peaceful, she is gentle and peaceful. My friend radiates gentleness and serenity the way a candle radiates soft, warm light in a dark room. She does not work at her tenderness; it simply burns within her.
Also, my friend’s smile comes easily and laughter is always close at hand. In our precious conversations, even regarding the most deep and solemn of subjects, laughter often bubbled to the surface. Once again, this joy is not the result of personal effort or the vain attempt to project a mirthful image. No. My friend’s calmness and good humor arise from a heart at peace with God and herself. She knows herself as broken, needy, and desperate for God and yet she desires not to be anyone except herself.
But, what I will miss the most in her absence is the sense of freedom I experience in her presence. As one who walks in the Spirit, she is not bound by arbitrary standards of living that clamor for attention and obedience. This Spirit-provided freedom circles her like a cloud and provides a haven of safety and liberty for all who have eyes to see it. I rested often in this freedom. I was blessed beyond measure.
Saying good-bye tonight brought to mind the words of Jesus to Mary in the garden after his resurrection: “Don’t cling to me.” Truthfully, I’ve often thought this was a very calloused thing for Jesus to say. Here is this woman who loves him, adores him even, and he says, “Don’t cling to me.” But, he was on a mission. He was returning to his Father. Mary’s “clinging” was born of a desire to keep him close, to fasten him to a place that was no longer his home, to bind him to the hopes and dreams of all who loved him (and did not yet understand him). Jesus could not let Mary cling to him.
When we embraced tonight, the tears I shed were mostly for myself. I selfishly wished to keep her near me—perhaps hide her away until the day of departure passed. But, God has other plans for them and she must return to the life and people she loves. I saw myself in Mary’s place tonight and in my desperation to hold tight my friend, I heard the words of Jesus say, “Don’t cling to her.” I seek now to obey.
I know you don’t know my friend. I cannot even give you a name to attach to this testimony. But, she is out there tonight, on the journey back to her mission field. I love her and I will miss her.