By: Staci Stallings
My local church participates in a several retreats a year. One of those retreats is the Teen retreat, which happens twice a year–once in July and once over New Years. The Mass closing the Teen retreat this year was yesterday, and we went.
During the homily, our priest talked about how too often teens are put down. They are called names–by their peers, by their teachers, even by their parents. They live in a state of defense because their spirits are attacked on a regular, sometimes daily basis. He challenged us to be careful what we call out of our children and more specifically what we call them to.
I think this is huge, not just for teens and their parents but for everyone. Our world is full of sarcasm and put downs. We say it’s all in good fun, but is it?
What names do we give our children and each other? Do we use names that uplift or put down? Do we strive to embrace and inspire–or to deride and mock?
Our children are particularly vulnerable because they absorb everything. If you call your children “little monsters,” why do you wonder that they are out of control? If you say your teenager is the spawn of Satan, why do you wonder that she is on drugs and beyond reach?
Names are powerful. They identify our identity. They tell us who we are and who others think we are.
So what names are you giving your children, your co-workers, your boss, your friends? And what names are you giving yourself?
In his powerful book, “Your Secret Name,” Kary Oberbrunner talks about how our “given names” shape who we are and who we become. The names we accept for ourselves: Lazy, Bad, Pest, Perfect will twist us into knots if we let them. We have to actively seek out our Secret Name, the name God gives us. Names like Saved, At Peace, Free. Those names will also shape our lives and ultimately our destiny.
When I was about 10, I got tasked with helping my brother one summer to feed the cows during the afternoon. We had an old John Deere tractor at the time. It had no canopy and a gear shift that would make a sailor run out of words. My job was to drive the tractor. My brother’s job was to stand in the little trailer it pulled and fork hay to the cows. Now I was not a good driver anyway, and that tractor would have challenged a great driver.
To make matters worse, it was important to drive smoothly so that my brother could keep his footing, and to drive slowly but not too slowly so the task went well. All compounded by the ruts that were in the gravel drive we traveled on.
I don’t know how it started, but around that time I was in love with the play/movie/show “My Fair Lady.” So one day after we had finished, my brother came to help me off the tractor, and he said, “My fair lady” in reference to how I had driven that day. A couple days later when I had done particularly well, he said, “My Great Lady.” Once I got a “My Excellent Lady.”
I don’t recall now what he called me the day I hit the gas too hard and flipped him off the back of the trailer. I think I went back down to My Fair Lady. However, I still remember vividly those names and how hard I worked to bring the name up to something really good.
So what are you calling your children to? And what are you calling yourself to through the names you give yourself? It’s worth thinking about and consciously choosing.