Today, I’m participating in the She Reads Truth devotional–writing project. You can read more about the project and check out other SRT readers’ devotionals here.
When I think about all of the different names I’ve identified with over the years, it’s almost overwhelming.
Teacher. Wife. Sister. Neighbor. Student. Daughter. Aunt. This week’s lector. Coordinator. Friend. Blogger. Niece. Crafter. Episcopalian. Granddaughter. Committee member. That person who has value because she’s always so busy.
In college, not much was different. I was a student, a scholarship recipient, a sorority girl. I was a member of this club, vice president of that one, and running for that officer position. I was so–and–so’s best friend, that guy’s girlfriend, the girl from that small town, the classmate who took good notes, the English major who would gladly revise your paper for you.
And high school? Same story. My school was big into front yard signage (so very strange to look back on this). Baseball player? We’ve got a wooden baseball on a post with your name on it. Got ’em for every other sport, too. Cheerleader? Huge wooden megaphone. In the marching band? Please let us know if you’d prefer your instrument, an eighth note, or the school mascot performing your instrument surrounded by eighth notes. And yes, of course your name will be on it. We literally attached our names to our activities and posted them in our front yards. I always wondered how the kids who didn’t participate in anything felt.
When I think about it, I realize I’ve spent most of my life identifying myself not by my name but by my titles. Sadly, I don’t value who I am; I value what I do.
I’ve mentioned before that I am in a season of struggling with whether or not to continue my teaching career. It’s a 60–70 hour / week gig, and while I don’t mind putting that kind of time into a career that is rewarding, the past few years haven’t been. I don’t know if I want to continue sacrificing my time and happiness for something that drains me and leaves me little time for my husband and myself, much less any kids who might come later.
But do you know the main reason I keep teaching?
It pains me to admit this, but I can’t imagine who I’d be if I weren’t a teacher. It’s who I am.
Talk about identifying yourself as something external, right?
While considering this devotional topic and reading the book of Ruth, I’m reminded of a story our priest told us a few years ago. She was visiting a Christian mission in a small country in South America, and the mission had a new priest.
The priest who had been called to the mission had grown up in South America but left for the US to go to college and seminary. The priest was delighted to be called back home but realized it would be an interesting transition.
The priest was female, you see, and this mission had never had a female leader.
People were quick to get over their initial surprise and were very warm and welcoming toward their new priest, but they were met with an interesting difficulty.
“We don’t know what to call you. We’ve always been comfortable with using ‘Father’ before priests’ names, but some parishioners feel that calling you ‘Mother’ or ‘Mother Maria’ is awkward.”
Her response? “Just call me Maria.”
“Your first name? We can’t call you by your first name. You’re our priest. It isn’t formal enough. It isn’t good enough.”
“It’s what God calls me. It’s the only name He’s ever called me. If it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for us.”
As you can probably guess, they called her Maria.
But that story made me think. Of all the names we call ourselves, isn’t there only one He calls us? We can turn to our resumes for titles and offices. We can turn to our families for words that describe how we are related to them. We can even seek words we hope describe us, words like “friend” or “confidante” or “Christian.”
But are those words our names? Are they the names He calls us?
He knitted us in our mothers’ wombs. He’s counted the hairs on our heads. He knows our prayers before we’ve even prayed them. He even tells us He’s called us each by name. Do we really think He calls us anything else?
So maybe we can agree to stop confusing words with names. Maybe we can find some peace by seeking our identities not in what we do but in who we are in Christ. Maybe we can stop clinging to some temporary sense of self by what others call us and remember that we are called to our eternal being by name.
Because if it’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for us.