Names mattered, and when one was changed, it was more than a legal matter to be taken care of at the county courthouse. It signaled a shift in the individual's identity. God changed Abram's and Sarai's names to Abraham ("father of a multitude") and Sarah ("queen") as a reminder of his promise to make them parents of a great nation. Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter as an expression of his future role in forming the church.
So this subtle shift we see in Jacob's life turns out to be significant. The closer God drew Jacob in, the more comfortable Jacob became with who he is—both the smooth spots and the rough edges. He is ready to be fully used because he is ready to be fully honest about who he has been and who God has created him to be. As he learns to trust God, he learns to be honest with the story in which he is intertwined like strands of cord. And as I learn to lean into God, I am able to make similar shifts.
This is part of what Jesus was getting at when he said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." Because the English word peace comes from the Latin "pax," we assume it means the absence of conflict, a time in which wars have ceased. But the Hebrew concept of peace or shalom means much more than that. It literally translates "wholeness," and it means having everything you need to be fully and wholly who God has created you to be—physically, emotionally, and psychologically at peace. This is what Christ offers: an opportunity to be free by understanding who we are in the context of who God is and what God wants for us.
But if trading secrets for honesty is so liberating, then why is it so difficult? In my case and many others, it is because of shame.
Secrets draw their power from shame. I convince myself that I am too messed-up, too tainted, or too tarnished for others to accept. Or maybe people will think I am a fraud. As I believe these lies, shame grows into fear, which is almost always at some level, fear that if others truly know me, they won't love me. Or at least love me as much or in the same way.
In order to release my secrets, I must uncurl my white-knuckled fingers from deep desires:
My desire to be perfect.My desire to be liked.My desire to be in control.My desire to be successful.
Without releasing these desires, shame will keep my secrets locked up and convince me they can never be disclosed. It forces me to forge masks for myself and hide under them. Whether one faces an eating disorder, a marriage failure, insecurities and inadequacies, or just something done that they don't feel free enough to share with others, shame can trap us in the mire of our secrets and steal from us the gift of openness with those we love.
"Shame keeps us from telling our own stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories," says Brené Brown. "We silence our voices and keep our secrets out of the fear of disconnection." In the end, shame steals the very thing it promises: meaningful, authentic connections with others. Pursuing a life of honesty means to reveal who I truly am and assert that my story too belongs at the table.
As I took off my mask and wept with my friends that evening, I sensed there was an unseen guest in my midst. In the swirling cocktail of healing, grief, shared love, compassion, and prayer, God was present. Standing. Observing. And maybe even cheering.