Life is complex, and so are our stories and emotions. I, for one, am so tired of having to prove myself. When I was kicked out of my home as a youth, I had to prove that I wasn’t as bad as my mother said I was. When stalked by my father, I had to prove that I wasn’t a bad daughter for not visiting him in jail. When I stepped back from full-time employment, I felt the need to justify my decision to others by explaining that my emotional health was just as important as earning a paycheck. Have you ever felt the need to prove and explain yourself to those around you?
But what good does that do? It’s such a better use of our time to wrestle with God than it is to try to prove ourselves to those around us. People might pin toxic, untrue labels on our back. Life might knock us down. We may even wrongly label ourselves. But God never does. Our God-given identity is the truest thing about us. God spends a lot of time taking labels off of us, and whispering to us a new name.
Wrestling with God is not only allowed—it’s often essential in the process of discovering our new names. Abram wrestled with God as he was being renamed to Abraham. Jacob wrestled with God and was renamed to Israel. Why is wrestling necessary? Because an identity change is intensely personal. It cannot come from afar.
Transformation cannot come through looking at Instagram feeds. It’s a gift that can only be received by stepping away from the noise of the world and quieting our souls to hear the voice of God. My wrestling with God meant that I needed to take a time-out. I needed to scale back my speaking schedule and take time away from work to hear what God was calling me, instead of listening to the labels that were limiting me.
How do we wrestle in faith with God for our new names? The first step of hearing your new name is to reflect on the label that’s limiting you. What is the emphasis of your current identity? If your name is “Achiever,” you may be focusing more on your accomplishments than how God sees you. Did you know you are named God’s “handiwork”? (Ephesians 2:10) That is who you are, not what you do.
If you’ve taken a job loss personally, renaming yourself “unemployed,” you may be forgetting God’s unconditional love for you—a love not based on your performance. We all have a tendency to take our seasons, struggles, and strengths on as our new name. But God’s names for us are deeper than post-it-note provisions that help us get by. Our names are important, they are written in the book of life, and our new names go with us into heaven. We will not be labeled “Sad” or “Anxious” or “Depressed” in Heaven, so why are we settling for these labels here on earth?
In our journey to discover our new name, God will shift the emphasis off of ourselves and help us see the new work He is doing in our lives. The good news is that God is always doing a new thing. In the seasons when we feel stuck, when our careers don’t seem to advance, when the family we hope for seems to be a far off dream – God is still birthing new seasons, stories, and names on the inside of us.
“See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”
We are given new names because we are sons and daughters. Our faith walk will involve wrestling, waiting, questioning, answering, and, yes, asking and receiving. Arguably three of the most important Old Testament figures—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were not given significance in standing because they were perfect. On the contrary, they all were flawed human beings who were honest with God, and God purposed to make them new.
God will not make a new way for us and then keep us captive in our old names and identities. We are a new creation in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17), and surely we can look forward to the new name and life he will give to us. You are more than a label. You have a new name!
CNN has called Esther Fleece Allen one of “Five Women to Watch in Religion,” USA Today has named her one of the “New Faces of Evangelicalism” and Christianity Today has called her “one of the 50 women shaping the church and culture.” Allen is a bestselling author whose latest book is titled Your New Name: Saying Goodbye to the Labels that Limit. For more information visit www.EstherFleeceAllen.com.