Last weekend my husband and I sat with our two children around our kitchen table and told them we would be moving to Dallas, Texas. We’d just returned from church and were still riding that high one gets after celebrating an extraordinary Feast of Pentecost. Both kids were decked out in their red clothing with sticky sweaty hair from running around the church playground with dozens of other children after the service. And then we dropped this news and the festive mood was long gone.
The first word out of both of their mouths was a simple but emphatic “no.” When my son caught his breath and could elaborate more, the stark no evolved into, “No, I’m not moving. I will not move away from my friends.” I could understand his response; I know I’ll miss our idyllic small town that’s nestled just outside of the Shenandoah National Park, surrounded by orchards and wineries. I’ve loved the slower pace of rural life and being smacked in the face with our creation’s beauty every single time I step out of my front door. We’ve been blessed to live in what the Celtic tradition calls a “thin place,” a place where the gap between heaven and earth is so thin that one can’t help but feel God’s presence all around.
Our children, however, are not shedding tears over our surroundings because they have no memory of living anywhere other than here. What they do know is that Dallas will not have Henry, Nuala, Aubrey, Ezra, Thomas, Ty, Colin, Alex, Emma, Tucker, Lily Kate, Leo, Jon or Liam. Their grief is focused completely on friendships.
It is fitting that in the midst of cherishing friendships we remember Barnabas. We learn about Barnabas mainly in the Acts of the Apostles and a few of the New Testament epistles. Born Jewish with the name Joseph, he was given the name Barnabas, after he sold one of his fields and turned the proceeds over to the apostles. His new name fit him perfectly as Barnabas means “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation.”
After Paul’s miraculous conversion he journeyed to Jerusalem in hopes of joining Jesus’ disciples. Unfortunately, the disciples weren’t so welcoming of this former persecutor. The disciples refused to trust him, fearing that he was not truly a confessor of Christ. All but Barnabas. While others were skeptical of Paul’s conversion, Barnabas went to find him so he could get to know him better and hear the full story. Barnabas was quickly convinced of Paul’s conversion, so he brought him to Antioch and then to Jerusalem to introduce him to the Apostles and other early Christians. And the rest is history.
Barnabas displays patience and resiliency with the disciples and their mob mentality, while offering Paul encouragement and his superb listening skills. Barnabas is generous and thoughtful. He loves Jesus and loves his people. As today’s appointed reading from Acts says, Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” He is, in short, a truly great friend.
My children are fortunate enough to be surrounded by Barnabases (Barnabi?). Friends who console them when they’ve messed up with a teacher, cheer them on during baseball games, encourage them when attempting the terrifying monkey bars and stick up for them when being picked on at school. Dear friends like these are life-giving. As we begin the process of saying goodbye, I’m cherishing these relationships more than ever before and how they’ve profoundly shaped my children. And, at the same time, I also find myself wondering what new Barnabas figures will be awaiting us as our family journey continues in Texas. What new thin places will we discover? And what next chapter will God provide on our lifelong journey with Him?
A Prayer for Today
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
What can you do to be a Barnabas-like friend to another?