May 02, 2022 by Linda Opp
My first and second-grade teacher was Mrs. Weber. She was tall and dignified and kind and wore beautiful dresses or pleated skirts with white blouses. She kept a cloth handkerchief discreetly tucked into her sleeve. Her salt and pepper hair was styled in a classic updo. In my eyes, she was the epitome of elegance. I loved her, and was considered fortunate to have this teacher, known for giving first and second graders “a good start.” In those days we didn't have preschool or kindergarten in rural North Dakota, so Mrs. Weber's classroom was the beginning of the formal education road.
I soon left Mrs. Weber behind. I may have run into her once or twice after that, but we didn't keep up with each other. One summer, after I was married and had children, I spent a day with my mom at the retirement home where she worked as activities director. “Mrs. Weber is a resident here,” Mom told me. “You should go say hi.”
So I did. I popped into Mrs. Weber's room, expecting to give a lengthy explanation of who I was and what I was doing there. Before I could even open my mouth, she said, “Why, hello Linda.” I was stunned. Mrs. Weber remembered my name after all those years. I was more than one of the Stober kids (there are six of us – a small herd, and a challenge to keep track of), I was a specific Stober kid. How she recognized me, I have no idea. My appearance had certainly changed a lot since first grade. And over her long teaching career, which was now distantly in the rearview mirror, she'd known hundreds of kids. I was only one in a long procession.
To have someone call you by name is a powerful thing. It makes you feel like you matter, like you have a place in the universe. Sometimes being anonymous is intentional, for instance, if you're taking a break from the demands of too many people who know your name, but you can't remain nameless and unseen for long without starting to feel lonely.
Names are important to God, too. He wants us to know his names, because in Biblical culture your name wasn't just a convenient label, a way to differentiate you from everyone else. Your name was who you were, a description of your character. God's names are intentionally planted throughout the Bible like signposts. Each one means something.
To believe in the name of God, to pray in the name of Jesus, is to believe in and call on the character and essence of the Father and the Son, to trust in who God is. The first name we have for God is in Genesis 1. It's Elohim, “creator.” The Israelites knew him as Yahweh, which means “eternal one”, the personal covenant name of God who visits his people and intervenes for them. In the running list I've written in the back of my Bible I have thirty-two names for God found in the Old Testament, and fifty-eight names and titles for Jesus, beginning with Immanuel, “God With Us”, in Matthew 1, and ending with the Bright Morning Star in Revelation 22.
Amazingly, God knows each one of us by name as well. Jesus said it himself in John 10:3 when he called himself the one true shepherd of the sheep – that would be us – who calls his sheep by name. He knows each one individually. How wondrous to know that God knows my name. He sees me. Even though there are many women who have the same name as me, God sees the unique me behind the name. He can never lose me in the crowd because he calls me by name.
If God places that much value on the individual, then I ought to do the same. It's impossible for me to literally know everyone's name, but I can value whoever comes across my path by giving them my full attention. And when I read about groups of people who are suffering, or see the misery portrayed on my screen, rather than dismissing them as yet another group of needy victims, I can stop and remember that each one of them has a name and a story. I can ask God, who knows each one of their names, to comfort and deliver them.
All because he is creator, the God who sees, the almighty, the all-sufficient one, everlasting, the Lord who heals, the king, the living God, our refuge, shield, fortress, and dwelling place. He's all that and more, and he knows us all by name.
He knew Mrs. Weber's name, too. It was Bernice.