This Is Not Who You Are

Great Great Grandpa Robert
Great Great Grandpa Robert


Have you ever tried to ditch a nickname? It’s not easy. Some people have had to move to get away from less than complimentary labels.

My granddaughter and I are working together on a genealogy project for school. We lucked into some work that other people had already done and were willing to share. She typed as I read names and birth and death dates out loud. Robert… William… Robert… William… Robert… Robert… Robert… William

“Wow. These people had no creativity at all when it came to names, “ she observed.

I agreed. A singular lack of imagination. Like many families in previous centuries, our ancestors apparently chose from a very small book of baby names, unlike in this century when my Dad couldn’t recognize or spell any of his great grandchildren’s names. Robert, William, Robert, William. That was the expectation and that’s where nicknames came in. There had to be a way to tell them apart.

Now I say this with apologies to all the Roberts in my extended family (and there are many) since names are something you rarely get to choose for yourself, but nearly every one of them has spent their adolescent years trying to ditch the name, “Bobby” and replace it with Bob or Rob or Robert. Bobby is not a bad name and many guys have decided to keep it into adulthood. It’s certainly not like other nicknames assigned by insensitive 10-year old friends with a predilection for bodily function humour, but it’s hard to change and even when you reach retirement age your mother will still be calling you Bobby. She can be as proud as the dickens that you are now Dr. Robert or President Robert or the Right Honourable Sir Robert, but she will still call you Bobby in front of your colleagues.

Reputations can be like that. Some people have to move to get away from labels people have hung on them – even “good” labels. The pretty one, the athletic one, the klutsy one, the unreliable one. Labels can hang on long after they are applicable. Sometimes the people who most want us to change and mature are the least likely to remove the old label and the expectations stapled to it.

I’m still working on understanding the word consolation (earlier musings here) and I’ve been wondering about what the character of Joseph of Cyprus (Joey, Joe?) was like. Why did his friends give him the nickname, “Son of Consolation” – Barnabas in their language.

Two incidents stand out to me, although Barnabas had already earned his honorary name before these occurrences. The first is when he took Saul the persecutor and introduced him to the new believers in Jesus Christ and leaders of the new church in Jerusalem. He laid his own reputation on the line to vouch for serious change in the guy who had tried to silence and even kill them. More than that, he again acted on his perceptions when he invited Saul – who later changed his own name to Paul (small) to come help him with a thriving community in Antioch, where believers were first called “Little Christs” – Christians.

The second incident has always caused me problems. Years later, after many adventures together, Barnabas and Paul had “a sharp disagreement” over including John Mark (a cousin or perhaps nephew of Barnabas) on the missions trip because he had chickened out once before. Had Mark changed by that point and Paul didn’t believe it? Did Mark need more one-on-one counseling and inner healing so Barnabas took him back to Cyprus for “restoration therapy”? Was Mark really the issue or was Paul still upset with Barnabas over the not eating with Gentiles incident? Was Barnabas bothered by the fact they were now called Paul and Barnabas and no longer Barnabas and Paul? Did the Lord allow “the sharp dispute” to send them in a wider direction, apprenticing more disciples and developing greater influence in the process? Were they both right? Were they both wrong? Was it a mix? I don’t know.

What I do know is that the label, “Useless Deserter,” hung on Mark turned out to be totally inaccurate. Later he wrote the gospel of Mark and Paul even sent for him because he was “useful.” Perhaps Mark’s true calling was to be a writer and not a missionary. (I like to encourage myself with that thought anyway.)

The outstanding trait of Barnabas in both situations seems to be his ability to see people’s potential, to see them as God saw them. As an apostle, a father, he was willing to nurture, protect and advance people who carried “nicknames” from their immature years. He was a facilitator of change. I wonder if this was the character quality that contributed to his own new label – Son of Consolation, Son of Encouragement.

I was surprised to find out that in the Greek that the word translated consolation here is parakletos – the same name that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit when he said The Comforter is coming! There was something in Barnabas that people recognized as a characteristic of Holy Spirit – consolation, comfort, empowerment.

Could it be that one aspect of the consolations that delight our souls (Psalm 94:19) is that God sees us for what we will become? He removes old labels and goes before us to defend us – to ourselves, and to others. He shows us our true identity. He is a facilitator of change.

He gives us a new name.

And it’s probably not Bobby.