This is what your name means

Photo: Tim Mossholder, Unsplash. Photo: Tim Mossholder, Unsplash.

“They think they’re God’s gift to the world,” we say sarcastically of those who walk around with chest puffed out, pompous and full of pride. 

But what if it’s true? What if they are? And what if it’s more holy than haughty? 

During our recent local elections, I went to our neighborhood polling place. I waited in line, stepped up to the registration table and gave my name to the petite, gray-haired woman smiling up at me from the opposite side. After locating me on her list, she looked up at me and called me by name, Jennifer. Then, with a glint in her eye, she asked me a question. 

“Do you know what your name means?” 

Before I could answer, she proceeded to tell me: “It means gracious gift from God.”

I always thought my name meant Fair One, but who was I to argue? 

I accepted the grace she offered, did my civic duty and headed home. But the interaction lingered. It refused to leave me. 

I asked Google the meaning of my name. Sure enough, it’s Fair One. Just as I suspected. None of my searches turned up “gracious gift from God.”

And yet, I cannot dismiss this. I dare not. This woman conferred a blessing on me, and I felt it when it happened. Something passed between us. I felt the holiness of the moment. Like bowing. Like bending. Like removing my shoes. 

Right there in the lobby of our local polling place, a gift was given on holy ground. I don’t want to wear it in a haughty, “I’m God’s gift to the world,” kind of way. But the truth is, I am. 

And so are you. 

And what if we all knew this? What if it was conferred on each of us, regardless of our given names? What if we acted on it in humility, not haughtiness, offering ourselves to one another as gifts of grace? A gift, freely given for the benefit of the other.

I’ve been named a thing or three in my lifetime, and not all of them have landed like anointing oil or a kiss on the cheek. Some names landed hard, like a crushing weight pressing me down. Some names have come from others. Some, off my very own lips.

There was a time in prayer when I saw these names, like labels, scroll across my forehead one by one. I experienced God’s Spirit wiping them off, saying, “That’s not you. That’s not who you are.”

Then who do You say that I am? I asked God.

My elderly friend at the polling place has answered that question: You are God’s gracious gift. 

We live into our names. Too often in a negative way: unwanted, unworthy, not right, not enough. I want to live into this new name — to be a gift and a grace to those I meet. And I’d like to call others to do the same. 

What if we went around naming one another as good? As gifts? And what if we received each other as the good and gracious gifts we are? What then? What if that was the label we saw -blazoned across those we met each day? What if, each time someone came our way, our spirit would inwardly jump up and down saying, “Here comes a good and gracious gift”? Can you imagine?

Oh, how that would open us. Open us toward one another. Spur us to look for the gift in the other instead of eyeing them with suspicion, judgment or disdain. 

“Jennifer” doesn’t mean “God’s -gracious gift.” At least not that I can tell. 

But it does now. 

And so does your name. Because the truth is, every name and every person belonging to that name has been created good, as God’s gracious gift to the world. 

So let’s be that. Let’s remind each other of that. Let’s live into and out of that. Let’s allow the Spirit to remove all the false labels until this one alone remains.

We are, each of us, God’s gracious gift to the world.

I wish I would have stuck around the polling place a little longer. I have a sneaky suspicion that little old lady knew the meaning of the name of each person who came her way.

I can hear her now: “What’s your name, dear? Amanda? Martin? Zelda? Phyllis? Peter? Do you know what your name means?”

You are God’s gracious gift to the world, not haughty but holy, given for the sake of others and God’s glory. 

Jenny Gehman

Jenny Gehman is a writer and retreat speaker in Millersville, PA. Read More

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