Loving Till They Change

by Karen Wingate

Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:2 NIV

Shortly after my husband retired, we moved into a gated senior community. Early on, we headed for a clubhouse-sponsored event of beanbag baseball. We just wanted to observe and meet new people. We arrived amid cheers, and folks quickly maneuvered us on to separate teams.

As I approached the throw line for the first time, I gave Jack a desperate look. I knew nothing about the game, and, with a lifelong visual impairment, I couldn’t see the holes in the board, much less the words marking their different values. Observing my clumsy attempts, the crowd shouted encouragement and instructions: “Aim higher.” “Throw more to the right.”

My arm fell to my side. Even though a surgery had doubled the vision in one eye after fifty years of legal blindness, I had little experience in throwing anything. I truly did not know to aim a handheld missile. Telling me, “do this,” did not communicate HOW to “do this.”

After my second strike-out, I tried to explain to my bench mates about my vision, but they kept up a drawn-out barrage of comments and suggestions.  I so wanted to just stand up and leave this miserable situation, but then the entire community would wonder, “What’s she so upset about?’

Determined to push back gathering tears and be proactive, I asked on my third round if I could move up closer to the board. The team coordinator caught my need and said “Sure.” I promptly threw the beanbag into the hole marked “Out.” But I did get it in a hole. And my bench mates got the message.

“Duh!” one woman said, hitting her fist against her head. “You can’t see. You tried to tell us, but we weren’t listening.” She slapped her forehead again. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized.

I wonder if mature Christians are guilty of treating fledgling believers the same way, as we try to encourage them in their new faith. Hasn’t everyone heard the story of David and Bathsheba? No, and if they had, it was mostly likely not according to the biblical record.

Don’t they know they shouldn’t live together outside the context of marriage? Not if they’ve been immersed in a society that sees no issue with that.

Those neighborhood children, straight off the street—didn’t their parents teach them they shouldn’t run in a church? Shouldn’t they know to sit quietly through an hour long, foreign-to-them worship service? No. They don’t know. They truly do not know. It’s likely that their home life is so chaotic and dysfunctional, no one has stopped to teach them those kind of social skills.

Whether we’re proclaiming God’s Word outside of church or mingling with outsiders inside the community of believers, Paul’s words to teach with patience apply to all of us. Perhaps we need to stop our litany of well-meaning instructions and ask questions, observe, and praise the best they are doing. 

We can stop to remember what it was like when we first met Christ, assess what we didn’t know back then, and blush at how long it took us to understand and apply certain aspects of Christ’s character.

We matured by following the example and gentle encouragement of more experienced believers, and those who come behind us will do the same if we let them.

I like what Dr. Marion Henderson, my husband’s ministry mentor, once said: “Love them till they change.” We offer new believers the greatest encouragement to their efforts to become more Christlike when we accept them as they are and love them as they learn (1 Peter 1:22).

Meanwhile, do you think I might find someone who can show me how to throw a beanbag?

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Through continued encouragement from her new friends, Karen Wingate has learned to aim a bean bag in the right direction. In turn, she and her husband Jack are noticing a softening and growing response to their faith witness in their new community. Karen is a speaker and author. Her new book, With Fresh Eyes: 60 Insights into the Miraculously Ordinary from a Woman Born Blind, releases in October 2021.

Join the conversation: How have you encouraged new believers in Christ?