Words have meaning, but names have power.
Scroll through the notes on my phone and amidst the outdated grocery lists, random reminders, and sermon notes from church, you would eventually find a list of names. Some are labeled “First Name” and others “Middle”. They’re sorted by gender and are carefully ordered from most to least favorite. This is a list of future baby names that I’ve been shamelessly compiling since I was in middle school. Thankfully, names like Breeze and Wildflower have made their way off the list as I’ve grown older, factored in my husband’s opinion (kind of), and have given more thought to the significance of naming another human being.
Can you relate?
Some names just sound right. Some embody history and culture, personal significance, or legacy. Others have beautifully powerful meanings. The motivations behind choosing a name vary from one parent to another, but one thing is the same. That name will declare a child’s identity for the rest of his or her life.
Briana. Strong. She ascends.
Joy. To delight. Great happiness.
As a kid and a teenager, I remember taking such pride in my own name. It was a public declaration of who I was as a person. Strong. Independent. Good at what I do. Happy. Fun to be around. (Sounds like someone who has it all together, right?) I was successful in school, and I, for the most part, had pretty solid friendships. I was involved in sports, band, and served in my church; I loved it. Serving and working hard made me happy. The good grades on my report card made me feel proud of what I could do. My friendships were fun and fulfilling. My life wasn’t perfect, but I felt like my name pretty much matched up to what everyone could see.
At some point, a shift happened. I can’t put my finger on exactly when it happened, but I know that my name stopped being who I was and felt more like a public representation of my failures. My grades slipped just a little. My motivation just about dropped off the face of the planet. I started making compromises in my faith and wavering in my convictions. I lost friends and pieces of my reputation. I felt like a fraud.
Briana Joy. I was supposed to be strong. I was supposed to be full of joy. But I didn’t feel like I was living up to that. I’m sure other people weren’t standing around gossipping about how big of a failure I was, but my self-talk told me they were.
I had a vision of who I was supposed to be, and reality wasn’t matching up. Have you ever found yourself there? Endless goal-setting, hard work, and sacrifice, and you find yourself in the exact place you started. New school. Different friends. New job. Different life. But everything still feels the same. Progress that doesn’t seem to get you anywhere.
I tried to be strong but felt more exhausted than ever.
I tried to be happy, but complaining, cynicism, and negativity had the tendency to reign supreme.
There was a moment while I was in college that it all finally caught up with me. I attended a private university (SAGU) and we had chapel services throughout the week. I wasn’t planning on going to service that morning. I was tired and just wanted a break before going to my next class, but, PRAISE THE LORD, a friend dragged me in. Y’all. Let me just say that it is really hard to mopey when you’re standing in the presence of God. As worship started and professors and students began to pray over our campus, there was a shift in my heart. I found myself on my knees in the middle of the aisle, weeping as Dr. Adonna Otwell prayed and shared two scriptures that touched the very core of who I was.
“…Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
“You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.” Acts 2:28
This was everything I needed to hear. I felt like these verses were hand-picked to speak the truth of my identity. I am because God IS.
I didn’t name myself. My parents named me. They didn’t have a list on their iPhone, but the process of deciding on my name was just as meticulous and intentional.
I imagine that God pieces us together in a similar way. He carefully considers each component of our identity as he knits us together. He doesn’t accidentally add too much of this or too little of that. We are 100% on purpose. No matter how badly I wish I was there during this process — maybe to add in a little more wit or a little less Type A — the truth of the matter is that my identity rests solely in HIS hands. My identity doesn’t come from who I say that I am. It comes from who God created me to be.
My progress was leading me nowhere because I was moving forward by myself. I was trying to be strong on my own. I was trying to force joy. God says in His word that that just doesn’t work.
When I was weeping on my knees before the Lord in chapel service, God was speaking to me something along these lines: “Briana, you can’t be all you’re supposed to be and leave me out of the picture. You want to be strong? You can’t have that unless you have JOY. You want to have joy? You can only have that if you spend time in MY presence! Briana Joy can only be Briana Joy if I am by her side.”
Okay, God. Okay.
When I try to be who I am without the one who made me, I’m setting myself up for failure.
And y’all, it is about SO much more than my name. My parents could have named me anything. But my dreams, the desires of my heart, everything that I feel called to do and be…I can’t accomplish any of it without dwelling in the presence of God.
In his presence he brings peace. He reminds me that He loves me, that I’m His daughter, and that everything about who I am was on purpose. He restores confidence and right thinking. He makes “known to me the paths of life” and allows me to rest in His truth, rather than stress about mine.
What is YOUR name? Do you know who God says that you are? You may read this, nod along, and know in your head that you need to tap into the reality of your God-given identity…but you just don’t hear him speaking to you. I don’t have the perfect answer for that, but I do know that if you scroll through the books of the Bible, then amidst the stories of sin, captivity, insecurity, and inadequacy, you would stumble across many names. Some are called Redeemer, some Victory, and others Peace. Their stories are carefully told and their names were specifically chosen. These are names that were God-breathed from the beginning of time because He knew that someday YOU would need to read about them. Through their stories, I pray that God will begin to open your heart to the 100% on purpose person he created you to be.
I want this blog to be a place where you and I can discover our identity in Christ together. I won’t even pretend like I have it all together now. There are still good days and bad days, but I always anchor myself to the Lord. What I lack, I find in his presence, and I want to share that journey with you.
With strength and joy,