It’s hard to change and then return to one’s old environment. So often, acquaintances and even family can’t see the metamorphosis, or they resist the transformation, or worse, they treat the person as though nothing has happened. It’s obvious, if Onesimus changes, then so must they.
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.
When I first accepted Christ, back in the day, I woke up the next morning (Christmas morning, actually), and felt compelled to tell my family that I had made a huge decision in my life, a new commitment to Christ. My mother stared at me momentarily and then said, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass,” and went back to drinking her morning coffee. In essence, don’t be ridiculous.
Men and women who are released from prison often find themselves thrown back into the same crowd and ultimately the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. Generally, a former prisoner is better off starting over in a new setting, a new town, a fresh beginning. But the loneliness and lack of support is overwhelming. Everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged for the “new” self. The decision to change is hard work.
Alcoholics and addicts are constantly undermined by friends and family, with phrases like, “oh, just once won’t hurt you,” or “it’s a special occasion, come on!” Even dieters are sabotaged with offers of cookies and treats over and over again. What is the message? Don’t change. Don’t make me adapt this new self. Don’t make me look at myself in a new way by your decision to take a different path.
Onesimus escaped the household of Philemon as one person and under the loving care of Paul, became a believer and follower of Christ. He was not longer the same man. In order to successfully return to Philemon, he would need the support and acceptance of that family. They would have to look with new eyes, hear with new ears, and willingly, break old habits and build new ones.
Twitter was ablaze yesterday about men and women who made decisions to follow the Christ. But what happens next? They must still walk back through the same front door, sit at the same kitchen table, and wake to the same alarm this morning. They must go to work and wonder, can anyone tell? Should I say something? What do I say? And if I do say something, will I be under the microscope?
What is my role in such a scenario? I remember an old friend who hated being called “Tammy.” I asked what she really wanted and she said she wanted to be called “Tamera,” her given name. And so we agreed, she would commit to telling people of the change and I would commit to the new name. It took about six months but it worked; she grew into her beautiful name and so did others. Change is a team effort.
Lord, today, give me sensitivity to the personal revolutions of others around me. Show me how to be a safe haven for new things, new birth, new hope, new directions.