Recently I had one of those mildly embarrassing moments when I ran into someone I knew and could not remember their name. And it happened twice. Within two minutes of each other.
It may very well be that I was the only one who was embarrassed. Throughout the conversations that we had I was scanning my mind to recall their names. I don’t know if they were aware of my efforts to recall the names as we were talking.
To my “credit” neither person was someone who was a close friend, or whom I saw often. The first was the mother of my older daughter’s best friend while that daughter was still in high school. The girls didn’t hang around too much after graduating in 2005. I run into the mother once in a while at work and she always asks about my daughter.
The other person was the mother of a young man who was in my Scout Troop when I was a Scoutmaster. That boy left the troop in 2000, so that is a relationship that goes a bit farther back, and which is also more distant because I hadn’t seen the mother for a number of years afterward and she only began working in the hospital where I work one or two years ago. And I only see her there very occasionally.
Funny thing is that we all wear name tags at work but in neither case was their tag visible to me in a manner where I could read their name and work it into the conversation. My good-byes to them were friendly but not personal. And I did remember both names about 30 minutes later.
A number of years ago I heard a sermon, where the preacher said something about names. I don’t remember what the preacher said specifically but the lesson I did learn, at least the lesson in the sermon for myself, was that it wasn’t acceptable to believe that “I’m not good with names.” People matter, their names matter, and for me to have good relationships with people and to value them as individuals it is important for me to know and use their names.
Our names are the key way in which we are identified in the world. I’m Brad. In one circumstance I may be Brad, the runner, and in another Brad, the occupational therapist, and another, Brad, the Scoutmaster. And there are many more adjectives describing who I may be in different places, but at the core there is always my name, Brad. (More formally Bradley, which used to be only the province of my grandmothers but now is finding wider application…go figure!)
And one day Brad will pass from this earth. I will no longer exist, and at some point memory of me will likely pass away as well. I know the names of my grandparents but not all the names of the generation before them. And I can pass that knowledge on to my children but who knows how long they will carry it? For how many future generations will my own name be remembered?
It really doesn’t matter to me that my name is remembered long into the future. I hope to leave this world with a legacy of faith in Jesus, shaping the faith of my descendants and others my life has touched. And I hope that their faith leaves a similar legacy.
And another reason, a much better reason, that the memory of my own name doesn’t matter to me is because my name, and my person, matter to God.
The Bible is full of the names of people. Some are very familiar and well-known to us while others are obscure. Some are easy to pronounce and some, perhaps many more, we stumble over at best when we read and speak them aloud. Some of the people named in the Bible give us good models of making God-honoring choices in their lives, while others provide just the opposite.
And then there are others that are merely listed. We read just their names and we know virtually nothing else about them. The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are full of names and very little else. They list the genealogies of the Jewish people, beginning with Adam, continuing through the twelve tribes, even including Saul’s genealogy twice. Ezra 2 and 8 are also primarily genealogies of the exiles returning from
One of the things we learn from the genealogies of the Old Testament is that individual people matter to God. They matter in life and they matter in death. God saw fit to preserve in his word the names of a great many people. They are the names of his chosen people. The record of them reminds us that through the work of God we are also joined into his people. And one day we will be joined with all of God’s people, his people of the past, present and future, in eternal praise.
I forgot, temporarily, the names of those two people I began this post with. But I remember them now and I expect to remember their names, and to use them, the next time I see them. And I will also continue to work on learning the names of those people I expect to meet tomorrow, and next week, and on into the future.
And my greatest hope is that perhaps through an act as small as a remembered name that they may come to know and love deeply the person who holds the name that stands above all names, Jesus, the Christ.