Her arms resting on the table, Nancy leaned in and stared wide-eyed at Marie, who wanted nothing more than to hide her blushing face.
“You mean it, don’t you,” Nancy said, her gray eyes glued to Marie’s face. “I’m not your friend.”
“I didn’t mean for it to sound like that--it wasn’t what I meant….” Marie felt dampness on her face, a thin layer of sweat broke out all over her despite the comfortable temperature in the restaurant. She hated confrontations. “Nancy, you said it yourself, God planted the thought into your head to take care of widows. When you found me and saw my need, you figured I was your mission field and you set about to help me.”
Marie held up her hand. “I just can’t get past that, you know. I’ve been feeling so—I don’t know—so indebted to you for replacing the rotten wood on the house and now you want to put a new skin on my old shed….” Her voice trailed off; she reached across the table to touch Nancy’s weathered hand in an attempt to make her understand how difficult this was for her. Nancy stiffened and drew back.
“I didn’t know I offended you,” she said. Her voice carried an edge of constrained hostility. “I thought I was helping; I thought it was God’s will.” Nancy looked past Marie out the window. Something seemed to have gone out of her, the expectancy, the thrill of feeling great that comes from relishing one’s obedience to a higher cause, to God.
Marie knew that look; she had known the gratification of ministry when she was young, and the elation it brought. She had also known the disappointment of being misunderstood and unappreciated. “Nancy, please understand. All the while, you were serving God by helping a widow; I felt I was at your mercy, vulnerable and helpless. You wouldn’t even let me take you to dinner or pay for the gas you used coming to my home and hauling the new wood from the hardware store. I have never felt so awkward and indebted in my life.”
“So I’m exactly—what to you, a stranger who has helped you, a good Samaritan-- what?”
“I think of you as a mentor, you know, you’ve taught me so much and despite you being so much younger than I, in some ways you are miles ahead in the Christian walk,” Marie smiled amiable hoping to bridge the chasm that threatened their relationship. “I’ve heard people say how tithing changed their life but never believed it until you insisted I try it. I had no idea it would increase my faith to the extent it has, it has changed my life.” Marie leaned back studying Nancy’s face for any signs of reconciliation.
“I—I think we should go,” Nancy said averting her eyes and fidgeting with her napkin.
“Please don’t--let me explain for once how I feel about our relationship. Nancy, we’ve known each other for three years and yet; whenever I think of my friends, I don’t find you among them. I finally realized what you are to me, you are my Elijah, a mentor sent by God to help me grow spiritually, what is wrong with that?” Marie had to follow through with her plan; she wanted to clear the air of any pretense and clarify their relationship.
Nancy’s expression softened; a familiar spark flashed through her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s how I felt when I first met you, but that was a long time ago and I thought we had become friends by now.”
Marie contemplated her answer carefully. She sucked in her lips and creased her brows slightly looking down at her folded hands. Afraid she would ruin the delicate peace she had wrought, she couldn’t swing the pendulum again with the careless answer that almost escaped her lips. “Nancy, we are more than friends, we are sisters in the truest sense,” she smiled.
True friends never criticized, never demanded certain behavior, never questioned motives like Nancy did at times—at least Marie’s friends didn’t and those within her circle she cherished deeply and affectionately. With Nancy it was different and—yes--she was indeed like a sister, an older sister in the faith.
Nancy smiled, “Yes, Jesus said we would know that we are the children of God because we love one another. It’s the great mystery that binds us to him and to each other. Maybe we are not friends in the worldly sense, but we both love the Lord and in that way we love each other.”
Marie looked at her watch eager to leave on a good note. She and Nancy would never be friends, if they were, Nancy’s ministry would be diminished and Marie knew she would lag behind in her accountability to her mentor. The word mentor took on a meaning for her as precious as that of a friend.