Monday, February 16, 2009

When our children ask why.

As Pat shared, we recently celebrated our dedication of Israel. Dedication anniversaries are an opportunity to light a candle and have your kids ask, "Why do you do that?" We talk about how we want to use that day in his life to share with him who we see him to be. Part of that is talking about the meaning his name has to us. Pat and I had Israel's name chosen before we ever met each other. For several reasons, I feel God gave us the name. I remember the moment when I knew that I would name my first-born Israel. A pastor was talking to me about how God honors struggle, as is evidenced by the name he gave to His children. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, when I was trying to be an atheist. When God has called us His children, not even our worst behaviour can change it. I envision sharing this with Israel over and over again.

In thinking about eventually sharing this tradition with Eden, though, we weren't sure we would be able to share anything really meaningful with her about her name. And what a let-down that would be year after year, to hear this great story about your brother's name and then, when it is your turn, your parents say, "Umm...your name means delight." I don't want my son to have a meaningful name and my daughter to have one that is merely pretty. I feel like girls get the shaft like that a lot. I want my daughter's name to have some sort of intensity and depth, too.

Before much discussion with Pat, I was dead-set on naming her Lydia. I like the character Lydia in the New Testament. She seems spunky to me -- she doesn't mess around. I like that about a person. But Pat wasn't too keen on the name, and when he once said he thought he might be alright with it, it gave me second thoughts. So we held the two names in limbo for awhile (along with a third name we knew we probably wouldn't use, but liked). Then Pat's mom addressed all the Christmas presents for the little girl we then called "Peanut" to "Eden" and I started leaning toward the name, even though I have a fear of becoming one of those crazy families whose kids all have Bible names. (I feel like those families always have a lot of kids, and I don't want a lot of kids; it would make me crazy!) Once you give your second kid a Bible name, it puts you into that category and even if you have another kid, you can't name him Billy to get out of just wouldn't be right.

But we like the name. We like that it's earthy-sounding, alludes to something beautiful, is easy to pronounce, unique but not strange, and means "delight." Also, it's both the name of a person in the Bible (albeit some obscure man...) as well as a geographical location, just like Israel's name is. So we talked about it a little and decided to name her Eden. Usually our talks about "the name" came at the end of a long day, though, and not much was discussed about why we were choosing Eden over something else. The conversation went, basically, like this:
"I think I'm okay with Eden. What do you think?"
"I'm fine with it; I like it."
"So...Eden it is?"
"'Sure,' like, that's her name and we can tell people that's her name?"
"Uh...I guess so. Yeah, I think that's fine."
Nothing earth-shattering. Kind of anti-climactic, even. And very much a decision we made. I didn't like that about it; I wanted both my kids' names to be given to me by God. I know God uses our minds and works through our's just that He's a lot harder to discern that way. (This is why I hardly ever say God speaks to me, I've discovered. Even if I think something is completely right and exactly what God wants, if I feel like I have enough reason to back up my choice without bringing in divine intervention, I am not comfortable saying, "God told me so." This is for better or for worse. It makes me a failed mystic.)

All the same, though, the name really grew on me. I remember Sue, Pat's sister, asking why we had picked that name shortly after we did. I gave her the reasons I outlined above, and added, "Besides, it has a lot of potential for good and for evil." Now, what was THAT supposed to mean? And since when is that obviously a good thing about a name? But that is how I answered her, and my words just kind of fell to her hardwood floor, where the four kids running through our conversation trampled on them before I could think about what I had meant to convey. I was left with the feeling that I had given her a really awkward, confused answer. And my answer was not any clearer to me until Saturday, on a long drive with Pat.

The potential for good and for evil is something I like about Israel's name. It worries me, too, though. I mean, what if he just struggles his whole life in his relationship with God? What will that do to him and to us? "Wrestles with God" could go either way. But God chose Israel to be His so that others could know the perfect God through His interaction with His imperfect child. In a similar way, Eden is something God chose to set apart as a perfect gift for his new be a delight to them. But He put into Eden these two trees, leaving the potential for greatness and for a very difficult path through life. In both cases, God's choice was that people would take the more simple way of having a great relationship with Him. But in both cases, people chose to make things difficult and yet He is still working the consequences of those decisions into a perfect plan for all humanity. In both cases, God's choice in initiating a relationship with His creation is purely good, but it leaves itself vulnerable; it is dangerous.

I realize I think that there are a lot of things that are truly good, yet part of what makes them so good is that they are dangerous. Good and dangerous often go hand-in-hand. Fire is like that. Sex is like that. Adventure is like that. Relationships of all kinds are like that. If you are to have a good relationship with God, with a friend, with a spouse, with your child, you are going to be close enough for that person to really be able to do you significant harm if ever they are so inclined. And I want my children to be truly good. Being able to be truly good so often seems to mean having potential to be truly terrible. Yet it is a risk that God considered worth taking and it is one I consider worth taking, too.

The intertwining of goodness and danger is a work of beauty in my mind. I'm sure someone out there has a full theory written out about danger in aesthetics and that person is not me. For now, it's another of those vague senses I have about things. The meaning of Eden's name, however, is no longer a vague sense to me. It is a recognition that she is a good gift from God. (This, though I have never hesitated to recognize that her existence was God's decision.) God's good gifts are full of potential for both joy and pain. We do not expect mediocrity from our children; we believe they have great potential and this cuts both ways. So we embark yet again on this dangerous adventure of being intimately connected to another unfolding life. We go into this with both a confidence and a whispered prayer that this life will be beautiful in the full sense of the word and a delight to all who know her.

No comments: