"I not only have my secrets, I am my secrets. And you are yours," Frederick Buechner said. "Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it means to be human."
The months after my story was posted online were some of the most humanizing of my life. One night after a particularly difficult day, I turned into my neighborhood to see cars lined up along the curb outside of my house. A group of my friends waited in the driveway. When I pulled in, they said they came to pray with me and over me. I hadn't been home when they arrived an hour earlier, so they decided to wait. I choked back tears and welcomed them in.
I sat cross-legged in the floor of my living room and my friends surrounded me, laying their hands on my back and shoulders, grasping my arms. One by one, they prayed for grace and mercy and strength and divine presence. Hot tears fell off their cheeks and landed on my neck and arms, mingling with mine as they ran down.
That evening, I became more "me" than I'd ever been. For once, I wasn't trying to burnish my surface, to create an alternate version of myself that was more acceptable or likeable. I was finally able to lower my shoulder, drop my mask, and just exist in the present moment.
What's In a Name
I found comfort in the Old Testament story of Jacob. In Genesis 27, where we meet him, his first words are, "I am Esau." With his eyes set on blessings and inheritance, Jacob finds himself captured by the desire to be someone else. He wants to be the better one, the brawnier one, the beloved one, the firstborn. Jacob wants to be Esau.
As time unfurls, Jacob learns to live in pursuit of God, and a transformation happens. In Genesis 32, he is asked, "What is your name?" to which he replies, "It is Jacob." Modern Americans can easily miss this because our names don't have quite the significance they did in that time. Whether one is named Rosalyn or Zoey, Josh or Gregory makes very little difference. "Don't judge a book by its cover," we might say. "It's the inside that counts."
But the ancients were worlds apart from us on the importance of names. Ancient names describe who a person is and what marks them as individuals. Isaac means "laughter," Abimelech means "my father is king," and the prophet Isaiah called his first son "Shear-Jashub" or "a remnant shall return." Moses means "to draw out." The name was given because his mother drew him out of a river, though God had something bigger in mind.
God displays the importance of a name when he says to Abraham, "I am El Shaddai." It was quite a gift for Abraham to receive the divine name, which Jews today will not even speak or write out of respect. Later, when Moses questioned whether he was up to the task God was giving him, El Shaddai would tell him, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.' . . . This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation." By giving his name, God is offering more than a way to identify him. God is giving them an ancient and intimate invitation into relationship.
For this reason, Jesus shocked the crowds when he proclaimed, "Before Abraham was born, I AM!" More than a statement of his role as God's son and messenger, Jesus is telling them that the intimate relationship that God offered their ancestors can be accessed through Christ. And the sign of this relationship is not a signed contract or a firm handshake, but a name.