It’s hard to comprehend what the apostle Paul experienced when he wrote, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (II Timothy 4:16).
How could it be?
Paul was no recluse who failed to build meaningful relationships in the Church. He was one of the primary Christian leaders at the time. He had won many to Christ and planted numerous churches. He also sacrificed greatly on behalf of many people. He was a teacher and an apostle of the Church. And no one came to his support? Everyone deserted him?
How could it be that so many forgot or abandoned Paul in his time of need? Think about it. No one cared enough to show up.
How does it feel to be forgotten?
How does it feel to be deserted? Paul could have said, “Well, Well, I guess I’ll think twice before I sacrifice myself for these people.” “After all I’ve done for them, this is how I get treated?” “I guess I now know how much I am appreciated!”
It’s natural to feel self-pity and resentment when we’ve been forgotten and unappreciated. It’s super-natural to respond as Paul did. Paul chose forgiveness over resentment when he said, “May it not be held against them.”
And then he told of a special visitor who came to his aid. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength,…” (II Timothy 4:17).
If Paul had chosen resentment toward those who had deserted him, it’s unlikely that he would have been able to detect the Lord’s presence with him. A bitter heart cannot experience the strengthening presence of the Lord. Paul would have pushed away from the Lord if he had allowed his heart to be controlled by self-pity and resentment.
In the footsteps of the Savior
Perhaps, however, Paul’s experience is not so strange. Maybe it’s actually a required course in the curriculum for those who follow Christ.
We must remember that those who follow Christ are called to identify with him in his sufferings (I Peter 2:21) and to fill up in the flesh the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Perhaps this life will require some experiences like the ones the Savior endured for us.
Jesus was deserted by his own disciples.
- “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).
- “On the way, Jesus told them, ‘Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'” (Matthew 26:31).
“All those who journey, soon or late, Must pass within the garden’s gate; Must kneel alone in darkness there, And battle with some fierce despair. God pity those who cannot say, Not mine but thine, who only pray, Let this cup pass, and cannot see The purpose in Gethsemane” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox).
It hurts to be forgotten and deserted. But when faced with such experiences, we multiply our pain if we choose bitterness over forgiveness. We also push away from the presence of the one who said, “…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” and “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).
Reflect on the words of the psalmist, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10).