If you could choose your name, what name would you choose?
I recently asked that question to a group of women in my Bible study after reading about Naomi in the book of Ruth. Naomi, whose name means pleasant, wanted to rename herself Mara, which means bitter as she said, “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). Naomi’s life had been layered with tragedy after she lost her husband and two sons while living in a foreign country. Yet all along, even when all she could see was loss, God had been sowing the seeds of Naomi’s redemption.
When I asked the question, a woman in my study named Kathleen said, “My first reaction was to choose the name ‘undone’, because I feel completely undone by all that has happened to me. But then I remembered that I am beloved by God, so I would name myself ‘beloved.’”
If you knew what Kathleen had been through, you would probably have been as taken aback as I was. Her honesty and trust in God brought me to tears.
I have thought about her words for days.
Do I see that I am beloved? My Bible study is about women in the Bible, and how they were seen, known, and loved by God.
On the best days, I need no reminders that I am beloved and my belovedness is the lens through which I view everything. I am buoyed knowing that everything in my life has been orchestrated by a sovereign God who loves me.
But on my hardest days, like the days that Kathleen has been living, I need to constantly remind myself that I am beloved. I need to keep reading Scripture, tacking up verses everywhere, and talking to God when I begin to question my identity.
What we name ourselves, what we are telling ourselves in the midst of our pain, will profoundly impact us.
Paul Tripp says, “We never just suffer from something – an illness, an accident, a disability, the loss of a loved one, or whatever it may be. It’s always deeper than that, because human beings don’t live life based just on the mere facts of their experience. Rather, we live life based on our interpretation of those facts. That means we bring an interpretive grid to our suffering that will shape the way we interact with and respond to suffering.”
What we tell ourselves in our suffering powerfully shapes how we experience it.
Are you telling yourself that you are beloved? If you are certain that you are unconditionally and extravagantly loved by God, it will give you courage and hope, convinced that whatever is happening to you cannot be anything but God’s best for you.
So what would you name yourself today? Would you name yourself by how you feel and the narrative that you subconsciously replay in your head… forgotten, unloved, undone? Or can you name yourself as you truly are… beloved, chosen, favored?
Names are significant, especially in the Bible. Jacob’s name means “deceiver” or “supplanter,” but God later renamed him Israel, which means “wrestles with God.” Jesus renamed Simon to Peter, which means ‘rock,’ reminding him that God would one day make him steadfast and immovable — which happened after Christ’s resurrection. While Naomi wanted to rename herself, many people in the Bible named their children based on their expectations or feelings.
Leah longed to be loved by her husband Jacob as she bore his first sons. She named the first Reuben explaining, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me” (Genesis 29:32). Her next two son’s names, Simeon and Levi, revealed similar angst as Leah was hoping that each son would be the one to secure Jacob’s affection.
Unfortunately for Leah, bearing sons did not persuade Jacob to love her more. So with her fourth son, Judah, she said, “This time I will praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). Leah shifted her focus from Jacob to God, satisfied in the steadfast love of the Lord rather than waiting for Jacob’s unpredictable emotions.
Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery and spent the next 13 years as a slave or prisoner before God unexpectedly catapulted him to second in command in Egypt. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh saying, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (Genesis 41:51) Joseph then named his second son Ephraim saying, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:52). God enabled Joseph to put aside his bitterness and desire for revenge, making him fruitful in Egypt where he had gone from a beloved son to a slave to a prisoner. Through his affliction, God saved the nation of Israel, though Joseph would not see the incredible impact of his story in history.
The names people gave their children reveal what shaped their identity. Some names reveal that people’s identity was in God while other names show they were more defined by their circumstances and longings. For Leah, it was a mixture of both. And if we’re honest, that’s most of us. I longed for my husband’s affection, but he chose someone else in the end. During my worst days, I would have renamed myself unloved and forgotten which is how I felt. Yet somehow through the process I embraced the mindset behind the names of Judah, Manasseh and Ephraim and was able to praise God for his work in my life.
Do you see what God is doing in your life and can you rejoice in his ongoing work, or do you just see what you’ve lost or long for?
Recognizing God’s hand in the present, when things are not as we want them to be, has the power to transform us. The shift behind Leah’s naming her fourth son Judah and Kathleen’s naming herself “beloved” shows they could embrace God’s goodness, even when their lives felt undone.
For most of us, believing we are beloved could radically change our joy. When we are confident that we are treasured by God and that he has designed all things to do us good in the end, we can more readily embrace the imperfect and often painful present.
Where are you today? Can you look at your life through the lens of God’s favor? What will you name yourself?
Used with permission of the author, Vaneetha Risner.