Turks and Caicos is our family’s favorite vacation destination. The island is the epitome of paradise with gorgeous beaches, crystal clear water, and swaying palm trees. We can relax, slow down, and just enjoy life while we are there. The beauty of the place is enhanced by the beauty of the people. The people we meet are usually from Turks or Jamaica. They are friendly and gracious and make us feel at home. And many also have fantastic names. We’ve met people named Princess, Esmerelda, Geiko, and Cadet.
On our recent trip, I was ordering a meal at a food truck when the woman supervisor said to another young lady, “Lovely, will you man the drink station?” I thought she was using the term “lovely” in the way certain folks in the southern United States use phrases like “honey,” “sweetheart,” and “darlin’.” But then I saw the woman’s name tag, which said “Lovely.” I couldn’t believe it. This young lady’s actual name was Lovely. All day, every day, every person she meets calls her Lovely. I thought about how lovely it is to be reminded constantly that one is lovely. And then I thought about the words that run through my head on a regular basis. I think “stupid” if I make a mistake; “ugly” when the mirror seems unkind; “failure” when I don’t live up to my expectations as a wife, mother, human being. I cannot recall an instance in which I’ve looked at myself with abundant compassion and called myself lovely.
On another day, I accompanied my daughter Riley to obtain a kayak for she and my son Jed. The man in charge was flirting and asked Riley if I was her sister, which is obviously not true. I smiled and said, “you’re funny” as we bumped our forearms. I looked at his name tag and was once again surprised. His name was Prophet. I wondered if he took his name as indicative of his calling. Did he feel he was anointed to point others to God, to show them how they could live and love better? I often question my calling. Or my perception of my calling. I wonder if I’ve understood God correctly. Do I really know what God wants me to do or to be? I feel lost sometimes with respect to whether I’m following the correct path. I found myself wishing that my name was the equivalent of my calling.
We often assume God shares the negative opinions we have about ourselves. We think that God must constantly degrade us and label us bad and sinful. We believe that God’s judgment aligns with our own worst fears. Surely, God is just as disappointed with us as we are with ourselves. And if God only knows us by names of disdain, then surely he doesn’t have a calling for us. How could God use us when he knows how incompetent and worthless we really are? We think we can never be good enough for God.
But I wonder what names God actually uses for us. I think God showers us with names that reflect his love, not our shortcomings. I imagine God calls us lovely, beautiful, and kind. That God believes we are good, smart, and worthy. That throughout our lives, God calls us to different roles in different seasons. For a while God may need us to be prophets and inspire those around us to live into God’s hopes for us and humanity. At other times, God may ask us to serve as teachers, workers, givers of hospitality, or learners. The list of God’s potential callings is infinite.
God wants us to embrace the positive and endearing names that he gives us. God hopes we believe that he calls us to help build his kingdom on earth. When I think something negative about myself, I want to substitute my vacation friends’ names, Lovely or Prophet, or some other encouraging term. God says, “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Let’s decide that the names God uses for us are wonderful affirmations that reflect how much he loves us and all the good he knows we can bring to the world.