"Call me Bill," the elderly, slightly stooped, sales clerk told me. He'd just handed me his business card. "For some reason they put 'William' on the card. But nobody calls me William. Only my mother did. But she's long gone now."
As I stood with this retired furniture salesman, now Home Depot appliance guru, I noticed a faraway look in his eyes. I figured it didn't have to do with the white Maytag double oven we were currently discussing.
"She used to call me William when she was upset with me!" he said and chuckled. Then he turned serious. "What I wouldn't give to hear my mother call me 'William' again. It's been all these years since she passed, but I still wish I could hear her call my name. You still have your parents?" I nodded.
"Well, enjoy them while you can. Time goes too quickly. Enjoy listening to the way your mom says your name. It's the most precious gift."
I'd gone searching for a new stove, but left with something far more valuable.
Back at home, I called my mom and chatted. I listened to her voice and enjoyed her quick, easy laugh. William was right; it was a wonderful gift and a strong reminder never to take someone's voice for granted.
Later that evening as I was praying, William's words drifted back into my mind. How often do I take for granted something as simple as hearing my name? Especially when God speaks it? How many opportunities have I missed to hear God whisper my name with love and acceptance and grace?
Names have such special meaning. In a sense, they define who we are. They bring comfort when spoken by someone we love. The "William" of childhood—who heard that name only when he was in trouble—now attached great significance to that name because it held a special memory of his mom.
I thought about Jesus' names and how they bring great comfort to me when I say them: "Jesus," the Lord saves; "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6); "Immanuel," God with us(Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23).
I thought about Simon, whom Jesus named Peter: "I tell you," Jesus said, "you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:18).
God attaches great significance to us through our names. Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1); "I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name" (Isaiah 45:3).
Too often in my busy days, I go through the routine of worship and devotional time. I pray, spouting off my laundry list of needs and wants and "will yous." But rarely do I sit quietly with my Creator and simply listen to him say my name.
In his book Life of the Beloved, Catholic theologian and priest Henri Nouwen writes: "We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That's the truth of our lives. That's the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That's the truth spoken by the voice that says, 'You are my Beloved.' Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center [God's] words that say: 'I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother's womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me.'"
While my head understands Nouwen's words, too often my heart cannot grasp that the Creator of the universe knows my name. He knows me intimately and cares about me; he considers me beloved.
We have a God who loves us so much he calls us by name. I am overwhelmed.
This Christmas, my house will be filled with the noise and clutter and chatter of five adults and four dogs for a week. The stresses and joys of the holiday will compete for my time and attention. But I hope that somewhere in there, every day and throughout the new year and beyond, I will not take for granted the knowledge that God calls me by name. I pray I will truly listen and hear him say, "Beloved. You are mine and I am yours." And I will know that he means it.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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