Sticks and stones may break our bones, but nicknames can only be surgically removed. William Shakespeare could ask the profound question, “What’s in a name?” because that was back when people could wax philosophical. Those men in tights liked to ask murky questions, such as “To be or not to be,” and others would salivate in the pool of obscurity. Nowadays people just wane philosophical, which is why our deepest question is “Got milk?”
Certainly names are meaningful and powerful. Will Shakespeare had nothing to worry about, since he was known as The Bard. His nickname sounded cool – on par with The Rock. I bet he would have felt differently if people called him Wee Willie Winkie.
Even people during biblical times had to suffer with nicknames. Most people feel sorry for Thomas, who doubted the Lord’s return and will forever be known as Doubting Thomas. But the Bible tells us that Thomas was also called Didymus. Sounds like it’s roughly translated “out to lunch,” but the name is punishment enough.
All of our children have so many nicknames that it’s a wonder they don’t have an identity crisis. Our four-year-old, Nathaniel, will probably only discover his real name the first time he has to fill out a job application. We have always called him Nate, but he recently rebelled against this nickname and his real name. His preference? Strongman – a moniker given by my husband to build self-esteem.
I first noticed the gravity of this rebellion when he started writing a large “S” on the top of all his papers. If he could manage it, he would probably make himself a cape and wear his underwear on the outside of his clothes.
One day while we were eating lunch, he became irritated with me for using his real name.
“That’s not my name,” he huffed. “I’m Strongman.”
“No, that’s your nickname,” I explained. “Your real name is Nate.”
Actually, his real name is Nathaniel, but I wasn’t going to bog him down with the details.
“No, Strongman is my real name. Tiger is my nickname.”
It’s not easy arguing with someone who can’t even reach the sink to spit out his toothpaste. But foolishness is not bound in the heart of a child only. Round and round we went, like a couple of exhausted boxers who are so determined to win they can’t even hear the bell.
Finally, I delivered the knockout.
“What do you think Jesus calls you when he prays for you?”
This question stunned both my opponent and myself. I knew with certainty when the words escaped my lips that Jesus really does pray for us. What do we think he is doing on the right hand of God, playing Yahtzee? But I had never really thought about the fact that Jesus knows us so intimately that he would even know our nicknames. What would he call us when he intercedes for us?
I remembered that Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter, and he called him both names frequently.
Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail…
I tell you, Peter…
Jesus still wants to protect all of us from evil, and he prays for us, although you will have to imagine what name he uses for you. And maybe update the simile.
[Insert name], Satan has asked to crush you like a bag of potato chips. But I have prayed for you, [insert name], that your faith may not fail.
He’s praying for my faith? I don’t know about you, but I don’t even feel worthy of my Lord speaking my name. Yet when he died on that cross, his blood spoke all of our names loud and clear. I love you, [insert name]!
Now I wondered what the Lord was calling my son when he prayed for him.
Nate was in mid-argument when suddenly his eyes swelled and he grabbed his throat. He was choking on his popcorn, and the world froze around me. My blue-eyed angel was silently pleading with me, and I prayed as he writhed in agony.
Before I could even move, the kernel became dislodged, and my heart started beating again. I was done arguing about names.
Then I smiled as I pictured the Lord during that scary moment.
Father, Nathaniel Hanson is in trouble. Please heal Nate, and don’t let him die. I love my Strongman.