On a bustling college campus, you encounter many people. When you pass someone on the sidewalk, do you try to make eye contact and smile? Maybe say hello? Imagine that you look up from the concrete and spot a face you once knew, but much earlier in time’s sculpting process. What if this familiar face stares back at you blankly, offering no sign of recognition?

Do you ever wonder how the passage of time may affect what someone thinks of you? Will he want to continue the friendship right where you left off? Will you have shriveled into irrelevance in her eyes? Are the two of you still hiking the same trails in life? Does he even remember you?

At the end of my childhood, my family uprooted from Greenville and headed West in our modern-day equivalent of a covered wagon. This change seemed to snuff out many of my relationships. Now, I’m back in Greenville for my first year of college, and I’ve had plenty of those sidewalk moments. Thankfully, they do usually recognize me. It’s strange to see someone’s face for the first time in years and experience the change in their appearance as an abrupt alteration rather than an imperceptible change.

Initially, I assumed that my childhood pals would want to pick up where we left off. In a novel, I’m sure that’s something the protagonist’s friends would do, if only for the sake of the plot. But real life is more complex than the best novel, and I soon came to understand the naivete in my assumption.

With some of my childhood friends, time had carved a canyon between us, deepening the divide between our life stories. These realizations necessarily brought a few moments of sadness and regret, but I’ve learned to put those emotions in their proper context. I am certainly called to love all people, but it’s impossible for me to be close friends or even acquaintances with everyone. Hypothetically, I could have one-on-one conversations with every individual on Earth, but it would take me eighty years, and each conversation could only last three seconds. Beyond that, I realized that some characters may appear in certain chapters of one’s story but no other chapters. Death is not the only force that can interrupt a friendship.

I began to wonder how frequently I must encounter canyons. As it happened, there was one person that I did not re-introduce myself to for a long time. I saw him around campus. I stood near him in lines at the Dining Common. We made eye contact a few times, but no glimmer of recognition looked back at me. I was torn about whether to approach him. Do forgotten friendships matter?

One day, Providence placed the two of us in a context where we simply had to talk to each other. I felt timidity and cowardice hyperventilating inside me. This could be awkward! In response, the small piece of me that is extraverted and adventurous smirked. It’s about time you did this! I approached the young man I had not spoken to in eight years and extended a hand of friendship. “Hey there. I’m Zachary. You may remember me.” I could tell you how he reacted, but maybe it’s better to leave that to your imagination. What if the point is extending the hand of friendship, not receiving a particular response?

Re-engaging with childhood friends and acquaintances wasn’t always challenging. With some, time was only a pause button in our relationship. The silence had been long and deafening, but as soon as we hit play, the song continued as before. There were some new verses, but the chorus was satisfyingly the same.

We each play different roles in each other’s stories, and that can be complicated. It’s good to be grounded in the reality that our stories are meant to form a mosaic that highlights God’s glorious plan of redemption in Christ.

Even a single smile may turn a discouraged mind from the much-bemoaned Problem of Evil to the often-neglected Problem of Good. A brief word of greeting might have a positive ripple effect on someone’s whole day. Every conversation is a unique opportunity to communicate God’s love through what you say and how you say it.

Today, may we all receive wisdom from above to know how to best share His love with each character in the great story He is writing.