Intrigue at graduation

AUDIO VERSION

 

In the fall of 1979, Priscilla moved back to her parents’ home in Sherbrooke.  She’d found it too lonely living on her own.  She’d read in Psalm 68 that “God sets the lonely in families” and said to herself, “God has given me a family, I can go live with them.”

But what she really wanted was to get married.  She and her mother started praying together each night that God would send her a husband.  They prayed specifically that God would send her “someone like Chris.”  “It doesn’t have to be Chris,” they would add, “but somebody like him.”

I’ve explained in an earlier post that I believe prayer is an interactive process.  When we first learn that someone is sick, for example, we generally pray for their healing, knowing that by doing so, we are reflecting the heart of God: Jesus had compassion on the sick and healed them.  But as we continue to pray, we also listen and try to discern how God wants us to pray in this particular case.  If we come to believe that it may be a “sickness unto death,” then while we always leave open the possibility of healing, we also pray that the person would have grace and courage to face death, and that they’d be able to say meaningful goodbyes and leave a legacy.

In the same way, I don’t believe that Priscilla and her mother thought that if they just prayed long enough and hard enough, God would send her a husband.  I know they were open to hearing from God that it wasn’t His purpose for Priscilla to get married then, or even at all, because she later told me what she planned to do if she discovered that God had called her to serve Him with the advantages of singleness.  She would have gone back to school to get her teaching certificate and worked with children in art and music.  In the meantime, she went to work as a secretary for the same doctor who’d brought her into the world 25 years before.

But she and her mother seemed to receive encouragement to continue praying along the lines on which they’d begun.  A young man who was learning French at Bethel in preparation for missionary service in Africa became interested in Priscilla.  He would be at the school for just that year and then go onto the mission field.  So if there was to be any relationship at all, it had to be serious from the start.  Knowing his plans, Priscilla agreed to pursue a relationship with him.  He began praying for God’s guidance about whether to ask her to accompany him to Africa as his wife.

In February 1980, Priscilla wrote to ask whether she could attend my Harvard graduation.  Bethel had been such an important part of my life, she observed, that it really should have a representative at such an auspicious occasion. I wrote back to say that I’d be delighted to have her come.

But there was one wrinkle.  I’d been seeing somebody myself.  (I’ll call her “Anne.”)  I’d even brought this girl home for Thanksgiving to meet my family, and I’d already invited her to be my guest at the graduation.  So in my letter I asked Priscilla, who’d always been my most reliable source of relational advice, “She may wonder who this belle fille is who came for the ceremonies from Quebec—will she feel uncomfortable?”

Priscilla replied that there would be no reason for Anne to feel uncomfortable, because after all, we were just friends.  So not only did I get Priscilla tickets for the graduation events, I arranged for her to stay with Anne when she came.

And then there arose a couple of a further wrinkles.  In April, Priscilla’s boyfriend felt he’d received a definite “no” from God about asking her to become his wife.  He gently ended the relationship. Priscilla struggled with this greatly, finding it hard to understand.  Hadn’t God been hearing and answering her prayers?

Then, near the end of the school year, a friend and classmate came and told me very respectfully that he was interested in Anne.  They’d actually gone out a few times, and he wanted her to attend the graduation as his guest and meet his family.

This was all perfectly “legit,” because by then Anne and I were “on hold.”  My impending graduation had raised the question of whether we should make our future plans for work or study around one another.  We hadn’t been able to answer the question with a definite yes, so we’d agreed to release one another to make whatever plans seemed best to each of us.  We were no longer officially dating, though we’d left the future of the relationship open.

I thanked my friend sincerely for his courtesy.  We left it up to Anne to decide for herself what to do about graduation.  She chose to attend the first day’s events with me and my family, and the next day’s events with my friend and his family.

Priscilla was not able to arrive until the evening of the first day, after my family had left to spend the night at my grandparents’ home about an hour away. So when they came back the next day, they found me with a different girl.

They were all delighted to see Priscilla, but everyone wanted to know, “WHERE’S ANNE?”  “Oh, she’s spending the day with her other boyfriend” didn’t seem like quite the right answer.  I told them she had some other commitments.  The auspicious occasion continued without any other questions being asked out loud.

Priscilla was scheduled to fly out of Boston the following day to be a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding.  So rather than ride home with my family that evening, I stayed in town a little longer.  She and I had dinner together and the next morning—after she’d spent a second night at Anne’s place—I made sure she got to the airport, then I took the bus home.

We knew we’d see one another again in only a few weeks, because contrary to all of my earlier expectations, I’d decided that I should help out at Camp de Béthel for one more summer.  Some interesting things had begun to happen to me when Priscilla and her mother started praying for a husband for her.  Somebody “like Chris.”  I’d be studying at my desk at college and suddenly a scene from the Bethel camp would appear vividly in my mind.  Or I’d dream in French, which I’d never done before.  “I think God wants me go back there one more summer,” I finally concluded.

I wrote to ask about this only weeks before the camp was to begin.  There was still a slot open for a boys’ counselor.

Priscilla with me at my graduation, when we were "just friends." Really.
Priscilla with me at my graduation, when we were “just friends.” Really.

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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