Being accused of something you didn’t do, think, or say stinks.
Math was never my best subject in school, especially algebra. I think the reason I developed such a bad attitude toward the mix of letters and numbers was because of my seventh-grade algebra teacher. She wreaked of cigarette smoke, wore a constant scowl, and was the grouchiest woman I’d ever met. She was the kind of teacher I hoped I would never become. We became petrified and bug-eyed whenever she looked our way. So, let’s just say she enhanced our prayer lives.
One morning before handing back our graded test papers, she ominously called another girl and me up to her desk – in front of everyone. I didn’t even know she knew my name. It was always my plan to keep quiet and remain invisible. I knew I’d not done well on the test, but did she have to make a scene? She peered over her glasses and immediately accused us of cheating. That was totally unexpected! Then, as fast as a Fourth of July bottle rocket, righteous indignation replaced my fear and trembling. Suddenly, I wasn’t so timid because I knew she was wrong! I had not cheated. She smugly asked for me to show her how I got my answer. When I did, she angrily snapped, “That’s NOT how you do that!” My pent-up frustration unleashed a disrespectful response, “And that’s the problem! I don’t know how to do any of this! But I do know one thing! I did NOT cheat!”
Not the humblest of reactions, but I gained some empathy from her after that. She stopped by my desk more often to see if I understood what I was doing. I still don’t know a lick about algebra, but I learned a huge lesson that day. In this world there will be people who just don’t understand what you’ve been through, what you’re going through, or how much all of that changes you.
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps you’ve successfully recovered from an addiction of some kind, overcome some emotional upheaval, or had a spiritual awakening. But despite all of that, your friends still respond to you based on who you once were rather than who you are now. It’s frustrating, I know. So, let me offer you a solution that’s helping me. It’s not an easy one, but it’s a good one: Keep shining, and be patient.
Beth Moore recently said, “People who knew the old us are the most reluctant to accept the new us.” That grabbed my attention, so I kept listening. She went on to say that our life has to testify to the change we’ve experienced. Man, I hated hearing that! I wanted something instant, not another process. But, the more I moved me out of the way, the more I knew she was right. We can’t expect our friends and loved ones to accept the new us until we help them stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yes, we must prove ourselves. And yes, those words taste like vinegar coming out of my mouth, but they’re true.
I began looking through Scripture to see if I could find someone who went through the same thing. That’s when I remembered John, also called Mark. He is Barnabas’ cousin and a co-worker with Barnabas and Paul. (He also went on to write the gospel of Mark.) During their first missionary journey Mark traveled with them until they got to Pamphylia. There he decided to abandon the mission. We are not told what brought about Mark’s decision, but I can guess, can’t you? Discouragement, self-doubt, difficult circumstances, and maybe even fear. Whatever the reason was, it stopped him in his tracks, and Paul was not happy about it.
In Acts 15, we learn that Paul wanted Barnabas to go back with him to visit the churches they had planted to see how things were going. Barnabas wanted to also take Mark, but Paul didn’t want a quitter tagging along. He emphatically disagreed with Barnabas, causing a “sharp disagreement”.
Reading all of that makes me wonder what was going on inside of Mark’s mind. Maybe at that point he understood why Paul reacted like he did, or maybe he was still confused. Nevertheless, Barnabas took Mark with him in one direction, while Paul chose Silas to go another. This doubled their effort, as well as the outcome. What began as a problem, turned into something very good! More people saved!
I’m supposing that John Mark matured while spending time with Barnabas. His eyes opened to the things he needed to change, things he’d gotten all wrong, and more than a few things he needed to incorporate into his own life. His transformation took time. Then, once HE knew he’d been changed, old friends like Paul slowly began to see a difference.
We know that Paul did see a difference in Mark because they got back on the same team. Paul ends his letter to Philemon with these words, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings, and so do MARK, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, MY COWORKERS.” (v.23-24) However, I’m most encouraged by what Paul wrote to Timothy from prison: “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:11) Mark proved himself, but it had taken some time.
Oh, how those of us who’ve experienced significant change want others to notice and appreciate it immediately! We know that we know we are different, but others need time to see the change manifested in our behavior and the words we speak.
It took some mighty Holy Spirit power for Mark to admit he was wrong and commit to changing. The power within Barnabas allowed him to live up to his name “Son of Encouragement”, so that he could slowly, gently, and effectively lead Mark back into his calling. And finally, Paul counted on the Spirit to help him accept and receive Mark back into the group.
How is the Holy Spirit working in you? Are you the one who needs changing? Be like Mark. Do you need to encourage someone struggling to become all God created them to be? Be like Barnabas. Has someone who once disappointed you proven themselves? Be like Paul.
Maybe it’s time we all shine, and be patient!
“Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”Galatians 6:9-10, CSB