Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?
Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.
The woman who sits before me is a stranger to me. I have known her for more than a decade, but she is new to me. Our relationship has changed and so has she. Leah* and I were once considered close. We spent time together on Sunday afternoons and I was something of a mentor to her two girls. In turn, she was something of a spiritual leader to me. At least, that’s what the world saw. My eyes were opened when I saw through a crack in her armor. I only saw it for a moment before she slammed the doors shut. That was when I knew I wasn’t seeing the real Leah.
Sitting here now, more than three years later, I had a feeling I was going to see a lot more of the real thing than I ever imagined. I had always seen her selfless dedication to her church and wanted to feel the same zeal. I had, in fact, looked up to her as having attained a spiritual level that I could only hope for. What I had not known then was how those days spent at church functions from sunrise to sunset was costing her family the bonding time provided by Sunday dinners and lazy afternoons. I couldn’t see how the level of confidence she had bestowed on the leaders of the church had supplanted the rightful place of her own husband’s opinions in their household. Most certainly, I did not see the way her acts of compassion were performed with the design of having a spotlight shine more brightly on her.
As my companion and I sit across the table before Leah at this trendy coffee shop, I try for small talk. Something has to be done to break the ice. She ignores my comment about her latte and slides into the seat furthest from me. I am left out of the conversation for the most part. I did not expect much more than this since I was only brought along as a mediator. Her words reveal her in a way I’ve never realized before. With her body language she dismisses me. When she does refer to me it is only in passing and she can’t bear to look at me. Even when I defend her point of view she awards me with hostility. How can this woman whom I once believed my spiritual mentor carry so much pride and animosity? I have hurt her, and I acknowledge my part in that. This is not the time or place to bring out those hurts however. We are here for the well-being of others.
I can already see that she believes her way to be the only way to God. I can tell that her ideals and morals are the only ones acceptable. I walk away from these meeting full of the impression that her character is primarily formed from narcissism and bitterness. How can a woman who claims to speak for a loving God show so little of his compassion?
Later, I find myself continuing to reflect on these things. For so many years, I looked to Leah and saw the way a Christian woman’s life should be. I was envious of her time spent in prayer and the faith she put in her hands as they did works for Christ. Today though, my eyes have been opened by a woman who is so much closer to the image of God.
Rachel* has been in my life for two years. At first I was nervous about our church calling a female pastor. I didn’t know how I would respond to her leadership. Perhaps my thoughts were tainted by my experience with Leah. Maybe I was holding to old-fashioned ideas of men being leaders over women. All of my fears were unfounded, as I would gradually find out.
I wish I could say I saw how special Rachel is the first time I met her. My own nerves as I reached out to her in planning my upcoming wedding would not allow it. I quickly found myself caring for her well-being and her family though, and wanting to support her through prayer and friendship. I look at her face when she stands before our congregation and see an earnest faith that doesn’t put on a show. When she smiles (as she so often does) I see a true goodness and joy wash over her and into those around her. And when she blesses us at the end of a worship service, I feel there is almost a tangible light emitting from her as she speaks over us.
I took the time to share with Rachel the way she touched my life. Here are the actual words a wrote to her:
I just want to close by saying how much I have enjoyed your ministry. You are a light that shines in a way that brings being real to our faith. I look at you and see a woman who is who she is all the time. You don’t put on a show. You are kind, joyful and someone people can relate to. I have meant to tell you for some time how much of an impact you have had on me. I can honestly feel the love of God when I think of you, and I say a prayer for you and thanking God for you every time I do.
The goodness I find in Rachel helps me to have patience and forgiveness for Leah. I don’t desire to contend with or find fault in Leah. I know our friendship will never be the same, but I pray each of us find ways to move past our hurts and failures of days gone by and become faithful women of God with true and god-like hearts.
*Leah and Rachel represent two very real women in my life. For the sake of one if not all of us however, I have changed the names of those involved.