Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The One Who Knows Our Name

Back in the 1980's there was a hit television show called Cheers that told the story of rag tag bunch of misfits that found community at a bar in Boston. The bar was owned by a former baseball player and recovering alcoholic named Sam Malone. He helped to create an environment where an overweight accountant, a postal worker that still lived with his mom, a stressed out single mom and a dimwitted country boy could all find a sense of belonging and friendship. The popular theme song had the following chorus:
"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name."
It seems to be part of our nature as human beings that we want others to know our name. It is part of our identity and the fact that another person knows our name can communicate that we are known and accepted. It is why a recent encounter that I had left me feeling disturbed and unsettled.

I was part of a discussion with a small group of people where someone else was facilitating. The facilitator, who I'd met before but didn't know well, was genuinely engaging and did a good job with the material we were covering. But one thing bothered me. He didn't seem to know my name. But that wasn't really it. What troubled me was that he did know my name! It was right in front of him and was included in the exercise he was leading us in.

But even though he directly referred to the others in my group by name several times each, he didn't speak to me directly by name. To be fair, it wasn't as though he was rude. He included us all in the discussion. My voice was heard just like the others and my feedback was listened to. But where he spoke to the others by name (e.g. "Tom, what do you think about that? "Mike, would you tend to agree with that statement", etc.), he didn't refer to me in the same fashion.

I realized after this meeting how important it is to recognize people as individuals -- by name. It helps us to feel valued and important and part of the group. In this case, it probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if this individual hadn't exercised this principle with everyone else but me. He seemed to understand the importance of acknowledging others by name...he just didn't do it with me.

Being in Christian ministry, I have the opportunity to meet an awful lot of people. I try to make a concerted effort to remember people's name but, like others, I forget from time to time or immediately forget after asking for someone's name. I can get caught up thinking about the impression I'm making or what they're thinking of me or just being distracted by others that are around.

Fortunately for us, our heavenly Father knows us in a way that other people don't. Look at what Isaiah 43 says:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior"
The God of the universe knows our name and, not only that, but He'll be with us no matter what we may be going through. He knows our name in the good times and the bad times and in the valleys and on the mountains. But, ultimately, it is His name that truly matters. I really don't need to be about making my name known. If I make His name, Jesus, known then it doesn't matter if someone knows my name as long as they know His. I look forward to one day being in "a place where everybody knows HIS name."

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