A name is one of the first gifts we are given. It is something we will hear, write, spell and be identified with thousands if not millions of times in our lifetime.
As we grow, what becomes even more important than our given name are the internal names we are given and believe about ourselves. Names like athlete or helper. When we become adults, we might identify ourselves with who we are to other people, like mother, husband or friend. Unfortunately, if something difficult happens to us like a divorce in our family or someone we love leaving, we might take on a name invented from the pain that we feel. Names like abandoned or not lovable.
What Names do we give Ourselves?
The names you give yourself and that others give you slowly build a path that you will likely end up following, like water in the crevice of a rock. Unless you consciously direct the water somewhere else by believing what God says about you, you will often flow wherever that label wants to take you.
I am in my forties and have never been married or had any children. This has been a difficult road for me. In my life, one of the names that I have held onto the most is single.
I am may things other than a single woman. Lover of God, lover of people, musician by trade, traveler of the world, teacher, friend, avid reader, overcomer of a seven year chronic disease, lover of nature, worshipper. But single is often what I label myself. Sometimes that translates in my mind as rejected.
Jacob the Deceiver
I can identify with Jacob, whose name meant deceiver or supplanter. A supplanter tries to replace someone else. So in a sense, we could say a supplanter is also named one who wants to be what he is not.
In Hebrew culture, when someone spoke your name, they didn’t speak a word that was in another language. They spoke the very definition of that word in Hebrew. This is similar to Native American names.
For instance, my name, Kate, means pure. If I lived in the Hebrew world, my mom wouldn’t say, “Kate, come to dinner!” She would say, “Pure, come to dinner!”
Think about how many times Jacob must have heard the definition of his name in his life. Things like “Hey, Deceiver! How’s it going today?” Or “Let me introduce you to my friend. His name is One Who Wants To Be What He Is Not.”
Not surprisingly, Jacob lived up to his name. In his culture, the firstborn son was given two different endowments: a birthright, which allowed him to take on his father’s name in social and legal matters, and a double portion of the inheritance. The firstborn was a coveted position, and there is no clearer example of a man who coveted this position than Jacob. He came out of the womb with his arm outstretched, grasping his twin brother Esau’s heal.
It seems that even in the first seconds of his life, Jacob wanted to be the firstborn. But he was not the firstborn. His brother came into the world mere minutes before he did.
As Jacob grew, it seemed to become his obsession to take back the identity that he perceived to be stolen from him. He worked the rest of his life to “trick” fate, from coercing his brother to trade his inheritance for red stew, to sticking some fur on his arm to get the birthright that was for Esau from his father.
My trials look different than Jacob’s. Jacob rehearsed over and over in his head the notion that if he had been born minutes earlier, he would have all that he wanted. I rehearse over and over in my head that if God just gave me a husband that adores me, I would have all that I want. If I had children in my arms, I would have all that I want. If my relationships didn’t fail and I was never rejected, I would have all that I want. I too have become One who wants to be what she is not.
No matter how hard I try, no matter if I say the right words or do the right things or flirt enough or go on enough dates or even “let go” like all my married friends tell me to do, I can’t get a husband the same way I can get a degree. There are certain things in my life that I can’t control, and I will live a life of discontent if I do try to control them.
Wrestling with God.
Most of all, I can’t control God.
I mourn when I think about how I’ve done this. This is the God that I love. This is my Jesus, the one who has tenderly journeyed with me and been faithful to me every second of my life. The one who bled and died so he could near me in the moments that I ache for a husband and children.
And now, in my pain, I have reduced him to a genie in a bottle who will grant me my wishes if I rub the right way. Forgive me Lord, forgive me.
In Genesis 32, after Jacob had lived through many years of prosperity that was partially obtained by supplanting Esau. Esau sent word that he was coming to meet with Jacob. Jacob assumed that Esau would want to destroy him after what he had done. So Jacob fled with many of his wives and possessions to a river called Jabbok, which means empty and alone.
Finding a True Identity
It was at this crossing point that Jacob sent his wives and possessions over across the river and was left alone. What an incredible picture! The things he had fought so hard for—his inheritance and his family—were the things he needed to let go of in order to find his true identity.
As he watched the dreams he based his identity on fade away in the distance, he stood alone on the other side, stripped down to barest part of who he was.
That night, God came to Jacob and they wrestled with each other.
I want to wrestle with God like Jacob did. To ask him the hard questions that don’t make any sense. To come to him as life partners might come together, getting things out in the open so that ultimately they will understand each other more. Not for the sake of being right, but for the sake of intimacy.
When I wrestle with him, he will shatter the boxes I have forced him into like a contortionist street performer. He will transform the way that I see him, and thus he will transform the way I see myself.
Jacob the Overcomer
When Jacob and God had wrestled with each other all night, Jacob said “I won’t leave until you bless me.” God could have offered riches, fame, wives, many things. But instead, he offered Jacob a new name.
Jacob took up the offer gladly. After being called the one who wants to be someone else every day of his life, he didn’t want to live in that identity any more. He wanted a new identity. \
God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel means One who wrestles with God and overcomes.
He was no longer the Supplanter. He was the Overcomer.
Jacob learned a valuable lesson that night: no human being truly has the right to name you. Not your parents, not your friends, not the people that reject you, not even yourself. Only God can give you your real name.
Even if it is difficult, I want to meet with God like Jacob did. I want my new name, my new identity. When I wrestle him, he will tell me that it’s okay to ask the hard questions. He might not give me the answers I want. He might not give me any answers.
But it is His choice. He is God.
In the end I know that I want a God that is free. Not a God that beckons when I pray as if the prayers are like spells I can cast on my life by saying the right words. Not a God that I give my offerings to an he answers my plea like the million trinket gods on streets corners around the world. But a God who is bigger than me, stronger than me, who comes down a ladder to wrestle so that we can be close.
God the Name Changer
And in my wrestling, I may walk away with a limp like Jacob did. But it is better than pushing him away.
For in my wrestling I will know the God who opens his heart and all things tender and and all things passionate and all things beautiful flow from him like water. We will be touching, and sometimes it will hurt, but I will be changed. I will not know the answers to all my questions, but I will have seen the face of God. And I will see love in His eyes.
When I wrestle with God like Jacob did, my name will be changed. I will no longer be called single or rejected. Because I will have seen his eyes and I will know the truth…
My true name is Beloved.
What names do you give yourself? Divorced, abandoned, sick, widowed, fatherless, or failure?
Not any more. Wrestle with your God and know the truth.
Your name is Beloved.
Kate Hurley is a singer songwriter, life coach, and writer based in Asheville North Carolina. She has written two books:
‘Getting Naked Later‘ – Making sense of the unexpected single life and the upcoming
‘Prodigal Mind‘ – change your story one thought at a time.