In the local news, there has been a story this week of a man who has been accused of some horrible stuff. I went to bed uneasy last night after reading the article, but I didn’t pay close attention to the details. Today I got a phone call from a well-meaning neighbor letting me know that the accused person lives right by me. After an initial shock and some back-and-forth detective work, we both determined that it couldn’t possibly be my neighbor, but it is his adult son who lives elsewhere in town. They have the same name.
I’ve felt a little heavy-hearted today, as I always am when I read or hear stories of abuse or crime, especially when children are involved, but this time there’s a more personal sadness to the story. I like my neighbors. They are kind and thoughtful and have done nice things for my family. They are an older couple and they have shown faith and determination while she has undergone cancer treatments on and off over the last year or more. I can’t imagine the turmoil they must be experiencing knowing that their son is accused of a shameful act. And I especially feel bad for the father who is known by the same name. His son has dragged his name through the mud. His parents will no doubt now feel deeply embarrassed, perhaps ostracized by many. And that goes without mentioning the pain and turmoil it will surely wreak within their own family dynamics. I am sad for them.
And yet I realize how often we are careless with our own names. We perhaps do or say things that, though not criminal, smack of selfishness or reckless abandon. We fool ourselves into thinking that our choices are ours alone and don’t affect others. This news story has reminded me that this is not so; Whatever I do with my family name reflects upon my whole family, for better or for worse.
And any of us who considers ourselves Christian does so with a direct connection to the name of Christ. I have entered into a covenant to take His name upon me, and therefore, He graciously (and obviously at certain personal risk) allows my life to be connected to and associated with His. When anyone who knows me to be Christian sees me serve and love and show kindness, I glorify His name and honor Him. When I choose to be selfish or undisciplined or quick to judge, I tarnish that name. And though He himself cannot be diminished by my poor choices, I blatantly misrepresent Him and I hinder the expression of glory that could and should be for Him.
I remember as a missionary in Argentina, I wore a small black badge every day, pinned directly above my heart. There were two names on it: My family (maiden) name and the name of the Savior. I can recall the tangible responsibility it symbolized. My identity was wrapped up in theirs, and I knew that whatever I said or did would represent them in some way. We all wear one of those, you know— at least figuratively. I make mistakes all the time, but I do better if I remember who I stand for. I’m certainly not implying that our imperfections mean complete, overwhelming failure or cause for shame. The Savior does not expect us to be perfect, but his mercy is perfect and his atonement can make us perfect if we repent and submit to Him.
“One day you will be asked if you took upon yourself the name of Christ and if you were faithful to that covenant. . . . We are all allowed—even encouraged—to achieve the fulness of the stature of Christ (see Eph. 4:13).”
Elder D. Todd Christofferson pointed out how, with each obedient act, there is an increase in our blessings and in our ability to honor His name:
“Our willingness to take upon us the name of Christ and keep His commandments requires a degree of faith, but as we honor our covenants, that faith expands. In the first place, the promised fruits of obedience become evident, which confirms our faith. Secondly, the Spirit communicates God’s pleasure, and we feel secure in His continued blessing and help. Thirdly, come what may, we can face life with hope and equanimity, knowing that we will succeed in the end because we have God’s promise to us individually, by name, and we know He cannot lie.”
I’m amazed how generous He is with His name. I hope I make Him proud of how I use it.