“Penny Jean” – often the name I heard in my childhood when I was in trouble – is now the name that holds significance to me because it is attached to memories of years past. Names have such a special meaning. In a sense, they define who we are.
Growing up in a small church, everyone knew everyone by name. I grew up in two churches – one the early part of my childhood and the other my latter part of childhood – each was no more than a 150-member congregation. (As I remember them anyhow, though the latter one did grow to over 500 – I believe – by the time I was 18.) Sunday afternoons were always something to get excited over as it meant we were, more than likely, spending the day with the Pastor and his family. We would eat, play, talk, watch football, eat some more – it’s what Sunday afternoon’s were all about. And as a child, you thought you were in because the Pastor knew you.
I now attend a church where the congregation is over 3000. My parents came for a visit and I was very excited to take them to my church, as I was proud, thus I was overly thrilled to show it off. As we left the service, I asked my parents what they thought, if they enjoyed the service, blah, blah, blah. My father’s response startled me as he said, “I don’t really care for it. I mean how in the world can the Pastor know everyone that comes here?” I remember trying to explain that he doesn’t and wouldn’t, offering any defense that I could but my dad was having no part of it. Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed the service and the facilities; it just wouldn’t be where he would make his home church.
Since that time, I’ve chewed on what my father said like a piece of gum and then after chewing for some time, take it out and stick in my hair for later. I’ve chewed on it a few times over the past several years but never knew really what to do with my thoughts as, frankly, I wasn’t really sure what my thoughts were on the matter. Until…
About six weeks ago, I began attending a Wednesday night class where my senior pastor was teaching. The class is to teach facilitators how to facilitate a class and considering I facilitate a class, I thought it would be best if I attended. One of the things we learned is that we should open each class with an icebreaker, and thus this class was no different. We played a little game of getting to know one another. After our icebreaker, the Pastor began sharing how he knew most of the people in the class with the exception of just a couple. I remember leaning over to my friend and saying, “I fall in the exception”. Halfway through the class the Pastor was giving an illustration of something and stated, “It would be like Penny saying….”. I have no idea what he said after he said my name, as I was astonished that he knew my name. I looked again at my friend and said, “Apparently I’m not the exception!” I remember after service Pastor said something to me, again I have no clue what – I just remember smiling from ear to ear and without thought hugged him while on the inside I felt like I was a pin ball bouncing all over the room.
Since that moment, I thought about Jesus’ names and how they bring great comfort to me when I say them: Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and Immanuel. I then thought about how God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, “No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham for I have made you a father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5) Then I thought of Jacob, how God changed his name to Israel; “Your name is Jacob but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” Then I thought about Simon, whom Jesus named Peter; “I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18)
God attaches great significance to us through our names. Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) and then again, “I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” (Isaiah 45:3) Too often in my busy days, I go through the routine of worship and devotional time. I pray, spouting off my laundry list of needs and wants and ‘will yous’. But rarely do I sit quietly with my creator and simply listen to Him say my name.
In his book, Life of the Beloved, Catholic theologian and priest Henri Nouwen writes: “We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved’. Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center [God’s] words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me.’”
While my head understands Nouwen’s words, too often my heart cannot grasp that the Creator of the universe knows my name. He knows me intimately and cares about me; He considers me beloved. I have a God who loves me so much He calls me by name. I am overwhelmed.
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
God knew me when He created the heavens and the earth. He knew every mistake I was going to make. He knew every thing I was going to do. YET, He loves me! He calls me… by my name… I am His Beloved! How blessed am I!
Noise, clutter, and chatter fill my house and before long the stresses and joys of the holidays will be upon me, competing for my time and attention. I hope that somewhere in there, every day, throughout the year, and beyond, I will not take for granted the knowledge that God calls me by name. I pray I will truly listen and hear him say, “Beloved. You are mine and I am yours.” And in hearing Him, I will know that He knows me.
Copyrighted by reflectionsbypj 2009/09/20