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.

Consolation Prize

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When I think about the word consolation I have in my mind an image of Miss Congeniality.

“Well, you lost, but here’s a trophy for being nice. Thanks for playing.”

My next thought would be of platitudes spoken to console a bereaved person when you really don’t know what to say, but feel you really should say something so you blurt out a bunch of words anyway (a common source of pitifully bad theology).

“Well, I guess God needed a good plumber.”

But I keep running into that word lately – consolation. In my heart I hear the Holy Spirit, in the accent of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It started with Psalm 94:19 which I quoted in Weeding Out the Noise. “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me your consolations delight my soul.”

Other translations use words like give me cheer or joy, or make me glad, or lighten my soul. They all agree, consolation brings good feelings.

I’ve gone looking for it, the meaning of the word, I mean. In Hebrew it is something like tanchuwm. It shows up in the last chapter of Isaiah where God promises to comfort his people like a mother. One translation talks about nursing from “the breasts of consolation.”

That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees.

As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66: 11-13 KJV)

I mentioned to someone that I was musing over this image. She thought I was making it up. I heard her muttering as the door slammed, “God the Father is not female. He does not have boobs!”

Literal minds have problems with this poetic language stuff. I shrugged (after I winced) and reminded myself of the dangers of being a verbal processor.

I kept looking. Another similar verse came to mind.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Ps 131:2 NKJV)

Marty Goetz, the modern-day psalmist, phrased it this way in his song version of Psalm 131.

Oh Lord my heart is quieted
My thoughts are not too proud
The shadows flee, my eyes can see You now
I do not occupy myself
With things too great for me
Here in Your stillness, is where I long to be

And I have calmed my troubled heart,
I have quieted my soul,
Like a child at its mother’s breast,
I find my strength and take my rest
In the shelter of Your arms,
There is life to make me whole
I have calmed my heart and quieted my soul.

One of my best memories is sitting in the big comfy rocking chair in the middle of a cold winter’s night nursing my sweet baby. There were some nights when I felt exhausted, but this was not one. Aggressive winds whipped up the snow and tossed it against the window, but inside the house was warm and still. The boys were asleep and there was no new mom anxiety distracting me. I whispered to my child telling her how beautiful she was and all my hopes for her. I prayed for her and blessed her as she drew sustenance from me. When her little tummy was full she pulled back, looked me in the face and gave me a smile that all mommies wait for. Then she fell asleep in my arms, warm, dry, full and contented.

I wonder if there is something about the ability to receive consolation from Holy Spirit that involves us coming simply as wee children, hungry, messy, cold, and bewildered, to draw sustaining life from him. I wonder if the virtues we tend to associate with the feminine are also essential characteristics of God and if, when we allow him to draw us near, he wants to clean us up, hold us, fill the empty places in our hearts with warm nourishing milk, and, in the stillness, whisper blessings and his plan for us into our ear. Jesus called Holy Spirit “the Comforter,” the parakletos, the one who comes beside.

This week in my dreams, and as I woke to a clear June sunlight streaming through the window, I heard this song in my heart.

Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

(From The Power of Your Love by Geoff Bullock)

There is more to this idea of comfort and consolation that I am exploring, but for today, I am learning to rest here in the stillness and let his love surround me.

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