My parents named me Richard. They liked that name, but they also said that they wanted to be sure I had a name that other kids wouldn’ t make fun of. So from early childhood I was called Dick. Go figure. They led sheltered lives.
When I was about three, a babysitter came in to get me after a nap. She found me in my crib, saying over and over, “ Dickie’ s a baaaad boy.” We laughed about it in the family – and I hasten to add that family life was good, stable, loving, affirming – but somehow negative self-talk has always been a part of my life.
On June 23 I had a devastating personal crisis and attempted suicide. I spent almost two weeks in a psych hospital, trying to deal with a jumble of powerful emotions: remorse, guilt, shame and fear. My prayers were more like screams and sobs. But God was there, trying to get through to me. Over the next several days, with baby steps and setbacks, fear began to yield to hope, and shame subsided a little bit as I experienced grace. I have a long, long way to go.
During intake at the psych hospital, I had told staff that I wanted to be called Dick. But two days later I asked them to call me Richard, and I introduced myself to fellow patients with my birth name. I came to the Refuge as Richard. My old name is becoming my new name.
There are many change-of-name accounts in the Bible. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel. Joseph becomes Zaphnathpaaneah (look it up! Genesis 41:45). Simon becomes Peter. Saul becomes Paul. Names carry meaning.
I looked up the meaning of my names. “ Richard” means “ powerful ruler.” (My fellow patients started calling me “ King Richard,” which was weird and wonderful and embarrassing.) “ Dick” is listed simply as a nickname for Richard. But you know it has other meanings.
I don’ t mind if people call me Dick; my family and some of my dearest friends call me that. But it’ s also associated with some painful stuff. “ Dickie’ s a baaad boy.” A scared, awkward, timid little boy and a shamefully addicted adult. I want to re-claim my birth name, Richard. I’ m not sure about “ powerful ruler” – but I know this: I can claim no power except God’ s power, and no authority other than Christ ruling in me. It’ s astounding to me to think that God – knowing me through and through, knowing what I’ ve done, knowing my ugliest secrets, still says to me (and to you!) “ I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).
Adrienne Rich wrote this:
Either you will go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
For decades I’ve called myself names: slimeball, disgusting, evil – even while pretending to have it all together. I’ m about four months in recovery. Sometimes it feels like no recovery at all, with the negative self-talk crowding out all other thoughts, with remorse, fear, and self-loathing engulfing my mind, body and spirit. But a little bit more each day I get glimpses of grace. It hurts like crazy, but it’ s starting to feel more like healing. I want to reclaim the name that God has for me.
This isn’ t really about “ proper names.” How you and I introduce ourselves, what it says on a birth certificate or a driver’ s license, what a nickname means to us – none of that is important compared to the name that is written on the palm of God’ s hand. Whether my name is Dick, or Richard, or Zaphnathpaaneah, is not important compared to God’ s dream for me. My name, at best, is a metaphor for who I am, or rather, who I am becoming, in God’ s grace.
D. J. Butler wrote a lovely worship song that speaks to me on this journey:
I will change your name:
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one,
Faithfulness, friend of God
One who seeks My face.
Thank you, God, for the Refuge, where people whose lives have been shredded by what has been done to them and by what they have done, are claiming the new life that you have for them. Thank you, God – for knowing everything there is to know about me, and yet calling me Beloved.