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By Name

Last weekend I caught the very end of the television coverage of the funeral for Prince Phillip, husband to Queen Elizabeth.  Even as the service was just over, a photo of Queen Elizabeth was already predicted to go viral.  If you have not seen it, the image captures the queen sitting alone, face turned slightly downward, looking a bit smaller than usual.  Even more profound than the image of Queen Elizabeth was something said by one of the commentators.  Apparently, Prince Phillip was the last person alive permitted to call the queen by her name so, he said, she will never hear her name again.  A sense of her utter loneliness overcame me and I wept, not just for the queen, but for all those I know who have suffered loss.

Images of my own mother at the service for my dad stir similar emotions.  Like many memorial services, dad's also served as a long overdue family reunion.  We took photos of the whole family, with mom sitting front and center, putting on her bravest face and looking smaller than I had ever seen her before.  It has been several years now and, though nothing and no one can fill the void left when she lost my dad, thankfully my mom still has her siblings and a network of friends who will continue to surround her and to call her by name.

To be called by name, to be known and seen and loved in such a personal and intimate way, is so important to our sense of belonging, of self-worth, and our ability to get through the difficulties in life.  In that moment of imagining never again being called by name, I also wept because I remembered that God calls us by name--even if no one else does.  There are two passages that I lean into when feeling lonely and troubled.  One is this incredibly intimate snapshot from the book of Revelation where God gives us a new name known only by the two of us:

I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Revelation 2:17b NIV

Names known only by the two of us are reserved for the closest relationships.  I think about the nicknames we have for our children or what you might whisper in love to your spouse, and even the inside joke between friends connotes deep bonding.  To feel the weight of that kind of relationship with the God of the universe is overwhelming in ways that soothe deep wounds and heal what seemed irreparable.

My other favorite scripture where God calls us by name is from the prophet Isaiah, who actually talks about God's name for us repeatedly throughout the book.  Here in chapter 43, the passage is again an intimate reminder of how personally involved God is with our lives and how closely he walks with us:

But now, this is what the Lord says--he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
"Do not fear, 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..."
Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV

Whatever trouble we find ourselves in, grief or loneliness, sin or persecution, illness or mental health crisis, anything that seems as if it will overcome and overwhelm us completely, he is there.  God is our creator and father, calling us by name, and staying by our side in every circumstance.  What a comfort to me!  I pray it is comfort to you as well!

What if you take just a moment to read those prophetic words of Isaiah once again, but put your own name in there and your own challenges?  Tell God about what makes you feel like you are drowning or where you feel like your feet are to the fire, and envision him with you.  Hear the words of your father and creator speaking comfort to you.  The God of the universe is calling your name and keeping you afloat because he loves you deeply.  Here is the passage again (with my fill-in-the-blanks) from the Message paraphrase:

But now, God's Message, the God who made you in the first place, ___your name___, the One who got you started, ___your nickname___:
"Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you.  I've called your name. You're mine.  
When you're in over your head ___like in this situation___, I'll be there with you.  
When you're in rough waters ___like this circumstance___, you will not go down.  
When you're between a rock and a hard place ___like in this relationship___, it won't be a dead end--Because I am God, your personal God..."
Isaiah 43:1-3 MSG

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