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.
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.