Friendship in the Rearview

A relationship may end, but that doesn't make it any less sweet.

I’ve never needed much of a reason to go for night drives—no reason at all, in fact, other than a desire to be on the road. So when Mike suggested we make a donut run, I didn’t hesitate.

It didn’t matter the shop was an hour away, it was late, or that I had class in the morning. These were donuts we were talking about. And more importantly, it was Mike—a good friend, and the kind of guy who could talk you into doing something if you needed to be talked into doing it.

We loaded into his big white sedan and rolled out of the city with windows down. We had nowhere else to be, nothing waiting for us at home—just books and papers that could be put off. We inhabited the momentary privilege of suspended adulthood, somewhere between the freedom of adolescence and life’s full responsibility. We were college students.

Though Mike was older, he and I had become fast friends. I’d shown up one evening to a campus ministry event where he was giving a talk on loving God with our whole selves. It wasn’t a new message, but there was something about the way he spoke it. Something about his words felt more real, more honest, than what I had heard growing up in church.

Later, at a restaurant the group frequented after meetings, I introduced myself and confessed that I didn’t love God the way he had described, but that I wanted to. “Me, too,” he said. “I think we’re going to be good friends.”

God had used him to shape who I would become—a shaping that continues even now, perhaps in imperceptible ways.

Mike invited me to the weekly Bible study in his apartment, introduced me around, and offered to meet one on one—a gesture I took at first to be casual but eventually discovered he meant seriously for my growth in Christ.

As I got to know Mike, the initial honesty I perceived in him continued, though he wasn’t simply the pious leader I would have imagined him to be. He was a real person, with faults, strong opinions, and a generous sense of humor. He didn’t mind telling all of his friends how much he loved them. And when he had offended someone, he was quick to apologize. He was a big guy, with the personality and heart to match. And we loved him in return.

Through the rest of my time in college, Mike and I had ups and downs. We argued occasionally, got angry, hurt each other with words (but thankfully never with fists)—all things common to close friendship. Yet in the wake of conflict, there was always forgiveness, a deepening of mutual admiration, and trust.

So when the friendship began to dwindle in my senior year, I was surprised. Try as I might, I couldn’t pinpoint the reason. Was it busy schedules, the fact that we no longer lived so near to one another? Perhaps our friendship was merely for a season and had run its natural course?

Mike showed up at my farewell party to say goodbye before I headed east, and I was glad to see him. What I didn’t know was that, one day, I’d look back on meeting him as a turning point in my life. That I would realize how much God had used him to shape who I would become—a shaping that continues even now, perhaps in imperceptible ways. Our friendship may never again be what it was, or what I’d have hoped it would be. But today, there are no ill feelings—only a bittersweet mixture of gratitude for good times and sorrow for how temporal even the most cherished of friendships can be.

But that was all for someday. For the moment, there was only driving the interstate, the joy of a pointless errand. With the radio barely on, we were doing our regular thing. We were talking about everything—movies and books, girls, the past, the future, God and His elusive will.

We looked ahead to the dark and empty landscape. For miles, we were the lone car beaming headlights, 200 feet at a time, through the cactus-studded desert. Until finally, we spotted the neon signs hanging in the donut shop’s ample windows.

Mike pulled into the drive-thru and ordered two dozen glazed. I let my teeth sink into the hot yeasty donut, and gulped it down. The moment may not have lasted for as long as I wanted it to, but it was sweet.

I can taste it even now.

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