IVP - Strangely Dim - What's in a Name?

February 22, 2007

What's in a Name?

What follows is a recap of my Valentine's Day evening:

My Valentine's Day this year is spent with fourteen one- and two-year-olds at my church. Offering free Valentine's Day baby-sitting is a youth-group tradition, and this year, whether out of guilt or out of a noble spirit of Christian love (I'm not sure which), I decide to help.

In the first fifteen minutes of the evening, our adult (me and teenagers)-to-toddler ratio in the giraffe room is about seven to two, and I am ready to send students to other rooms to help. By 7:30, however, our ratio is more like seven to twelve. Diaper bags are popping up all over, sippee cups have appeared on various shelves, and I am trying to remember such details as "Rachel's diapers are in the Bunny room with her sister" and "Nick has allergies so I've brought a snack for him," while holding Little Screaming Ellie and trying to look calm and responsible so parents will trust me.

At first I stand near the door, greeting parents, asking toddlers their name and telling them mine. But soon there are too many kids and too much going on around the room to stay at the door and greet. Also, from pretty early on I am, as I mentioned, holding Little Screaming Ellie, which is not a very comforting way to welcome toddlers ("Hi Ethan, I'm Lisa. I know Ellie here is screaming her lungs out, but I promise you'll have fun!").

So, as the room fills up, I have to try to learn the kids' names from the security tags on their backs as they and I move around the room. Often the cursive is not very legible. Does that say Annie or Anna? I wonder, crawling after one girl and squinting at the name scrawled in pen. Nolan or Nate N.? At one point, in the midst of kids crying and me and the students enthusiastically trying to convince toddlers "how fun!!' puzzles truly are, another adult volunteer stops by to ask if we have Sadie. Sadie? I blankly look around at the waddling nametags and then scan the students' faces. No one seems to be reacting. "I don't think we have a Sadie," I say. An hour later, after traveling to all corners of the room in an attempt to distract Little Screaming Ellie with some kind of toy and temporarily succeeding (a big shout-out goes to Big Bird and to Sesame Street's puzzle industry), I am sure there is no Sadie in the giraffe room.

By the end of the evening I think I've learned all the names, and all the kids seem to end up with the right parents. I make a mental note to request the three-year-olds next year, so that I'll already know who they are. If I help next year.

The evening helped me see two simple facts that I often ignore: existence transcends naming and naming is important. The kids were all there whether I knew their names or not. But knowing their names made it a lot easier.

I am actually a big proponent of naming material things. Particularly cars (my car is Lucie) and household plants. I am not, however, a fan of having to name what's going on inside of me. Because in order to name it I have to face the fact of its existence. And looking at it means I have to deal with it. And dealing with it will be hard. So I often fool myself into thinking that if I don't name something (a sin, an emotion, a conflict, etc.), it must not exist--or will cease to exist.

But as author Kim Engelmann writes in a forthcoming IVP book called Running in Circles, "Stating [naming] the problem is the first step toward healing." This was made even clearer to me from sermons at my church on mourning--not the most popular topic these days. But that's the point: we all experience loss--loss that affects and changes us--but we don't usually choose to name it, face it, mourn. Naming and mourning take time, and we don't want to stop and be silent long enough to recognize and name what's going on inside us. But if we never mourn and face what's inside, we can't move forward.

The same is true on the flip side. This past Sunday, while I was in Illinois listening to a sermon on mourning, my dad was in Pennsylvania preaching on just the opposite: celebration. I'm guilty of not naming in that area too. I don't stop long enough to recognize and celebrate the goodness and grace God gives in moments. By not naming these, I'm missing out on learning to trust God more as I see his love and care for me, and he's missing out on the praise he so abundantly deserves.

Two days ago we entered Lent: the forty days leading up to Easter that remind us of the agony Christ suffered. Can we set aside some space to slow down, to start recognizing what's going on inside of us--the good, the hard, the ugly that exists already and needs to be named? I think we'll find, as we name things, a richer understanding of God's grace, deeper knowledge of ourselves and courage that comes as we become more aware of the Holy Spirit in us, with us. And there's a name for what comes after, and often in the midst of, that discipline: it's called redemption.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at February 22, 2007 1:29 PM Bookmark and Share


Theoretically, I'm all about naming things, too. Although I'm pretty sure I'm not as good about it in real life. Thanks for the reminder. (I've been trying to do that on my blog lately, too.)

Comment by: Jenn at February 23, 2007 10:17 AM

I like to give my sins, emotions, conflicts, etc. cute, managable names like Timmy, Ashley & Buttons. But then I always pick one to name Elephant (Big Screaming Ellie for short), so that I can neglect the others while I try to reason with Big Screaming Ellie, saying things like, "Who's not supposed to be up on the table screaming to be fed?" and "Did you just push Timmy down the well? Bad Ellie. Who's a bad elephant? Yes, you are. Yes you are." All the while Ashley is crying and Buttons is patiently pulling on my pants leg. I sometimes catch a glimpse of the one I call Red, for short, standing some ways off, laughing, though whether in delight or contempt I can never quite tell.

Comment by: Mark Eddy Smith at February 23, 2007 2:20 PM

Get saved, Mark.

Comment by: Craver-VII at February 23, 2007 3:53 PM

Great post, Lisa. Thanks for your service - I know that all the screaming parents, I mean, parents of screaming kids really appreciate it.

And in terms of naming our mourning, the contemporary church needs to recover the ancient Hebrew practice of lament. The psalms of lament name what is going on within the psalmist - Walter Brueggemann says that they were a way of ordering our internal confusion and grief so that they could be offered to God. And I've always thought it significant that in the Beatitudes, "blessed are those who mourn" states the truth that we need to actively mourn - and verbalize and externalize - our losses and griefs, otherwise others don't know what's going on inside and thus cannot offer us comfort.

Comment by: Al Hsu at February 23, 2007 5:03 PM

Maybe the name we want to avoid is denial. I realize what it is I avoid, but I don't want "it" to be a part of my life. Good thoughts young lady- keep growin'! Be HIS

Comment by: Doug at February 24, 2007 7:48 AM

Entertaining, - and thought-provoking.Some may be confused by the last word, limiting it to its narrow theological meaning. Looking forwaed to journeying with you in future experiences.

Comment by: Gran at February 26, 2007 9:47 AM

Comments are closed for this entry.

Get Email Updates

You'll get an email whenever a new entry is posted to Strangely Dim

Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

Subscribe to Feeds