She called me Satan.
Despite that, I have enormous respect for her.
We were seminary students, dreaming big. We had so much in common. Surely this was a match made in heaven.
I got up early that day for extra prayer. As we hurried into the classroom, I pulled Serena aside and asked her to go walking with me after lunch. We often did that, discussing weighty issues of theology. I enjoyed her sharp mind and she liked our intellectual tussles too. Predestination, I told her, was the topic for that day’s walk.
Serena sat near the front of the musty room by the window. Undistracted by the street scene outside, she busied herself taking notes and generally absorbing every word. I sat in the middle of the room, hunched over the wooden desk. Although I scribbled the occasional word on my notepad, my thoughts were far away. Suddenly, the lecturer’s voice penetrated my swirling mind. “Philip, why is chapter 16 the pivotal point of Matthew’s gospel?”
Huh? My face went red and I quickly flipped to the passage. Standing up, I stammered an answer while frantically scanning the passage, “Because … ah … Peter recognized Jesus to be the Messiah.”
Apparently my answer wasn’t quite adequate. The lecturer looked around the class. “Serena?”
The small woman stood to her feet. Her mellow voice carried to the furthest corner of the room. “From this point on, the disciples understood who Jesus truly was. Despite attempts to dissuade Him, the focus of His ministry sharpens in the second part of the gospel, culminating in the cross.”
Show off. Yet my chest swelled with pride.
We headed to the dining hall. Serena walked ahead, her thick black pony-tail bobbing as she laughed with some other young women. I could barely swallow a mouthful of my lunch. Finally, Serena extricated herself from her friends and joined me.
“Okay, Phil, I’m all yours. How about we walk by the river? We haven’t been there for a while.”
That’s where it happened.
It was a romantic setting. We walked side by side under the leafy green canopy. Serena chattered like the birds in the trees above. “Of course God has a plan and purpose for each of us. And yet we are also responsible for our own choices.”
Taking a deep breath, I interrupted.
“Serena, we’re good friends. We work together well. We’re headed for similar ministries. Surely our friendship is of God.”
Serena stopped and turned to me with eyes that warned, ‘Tread carefully’. Ignoring them, I recklessly plunged ahead. “Serena, it seems pleasing to God and to me that we should become husband and wife. What do you say?”
She spat out the words. “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man.*”
She was most clearly out of place. They were the words of the Messiah to Peter after Peter tried to dissuade His master from speaking of rejection, humiliation and the crucifixion. Serena had no right to apply those words to herself.
Anyhow, how was I to know that she’d dedicated her life exclusively to Christian ministry? Singleness? What was she thinking? Surely God wouldn’t expect that from her?
I don’t remember how I muddled through that semester. Serena never did realize the depth of turmoil she’d created in this once self-confident young man. In hindsight, I suppose it was good for me.
Sixteen years have passed. Although our church is large, there are still many communities nearby which have yet to hear the gospel. Serena lives in a single room behind the church sanctuary. She doesn’t want to be burdened by possessions, she says. Her face is prematurely lined with wrinkles. She works harder than anyone I know. Yet she seems content.
I work hard too. My wife is a gifted homemaker and this allows me to focus on my preaching ministry. We have an intelligent and caring son. Usually at the end of each month, Serena enjoys a relaxed evening with our family. She laughs with our boy and chatters with my wife. During school holidays, she often takes her nephew on her ministry trips. She enjoys the company, and we appreciate the impact she is having on his life.
I’ll never forget the day she called me ‘Satan’. And I’ll always be grateful for her introducing me to her beautiful younger sister.
She is an inspiration to us both.
* Matthew 16:23 NIV
Based on a true story.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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