By Esther Fleece Allen
After Joel and I began dating in Oxford, he asked me if I would consider moving to his home state so we could continue getting to know one another. While I was reluctant to move for a man I had just met, I wanted to get to know him better as well, so I agreed. My decision was a shock to me just as much as it was to those who knew me.
Truth be told, I was a bit embarrassed to be moving for a dating relationship. It was scary and required faith that God would show me what was next if this relationship didn’t work out. But this was a new land, unfamiliar to me, and it was a hot land. I didn’t think my skin would survive Texas’s blistering temperatures.
The move was hard and had its challenges. Not only was the temperature something I had never experienced before, but my allergies were bad, and I had no friends to go to dinner with or process our dating relationship with in person. When we follow God to a new land, beautiful things are on the other side of our obedience, but those things don’t always come easily. Following God requires us to overcome fear and the contentment of living comfortably in our old names and labels.
Sometimes God will call us to stay, and sometimes he’ll call us to go. There won’t be a cookie-cutter plan for any of us, because God desires an individual relationship with us and makes us all unique. He knows the details of our life stories and customizes seasons of growth for each of us. Our walk with God should have movement to it. There ought to be new things God is saying to us and calling us to. We are not designed to stay still in our walk with God. Ask God to help you choose the best path, not the easiest one. Ask him to give you the feet to handle whatever path he puts you on. And ask him to help you make decisions by faith in order to please him (Hebrews 11:6).
There’s no doubt in my mind that Ruth had challenges in this new land. She had a labor-intensive job of gleaning fields behind the harvesters (Ruth 2:7). Ruth was working hard and showing consistency, but I imagine she was tired at the end of these long days, and sad and lonely after losing her husband. I bet there were days when she felt her hope was cut off.
Our character is revealed during our times of crisis and need. Orpah went back to the familiar, her hometown, and Ruth walked in faith to a new land. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, fell into the trap of bitterness, which many of us fall into during seasons of grief. Discovering our new name will have a lot to do with which road we choose to take. How have you dealt with bitter circumstances in your life?
Naomi had faced several hardships. She went from being married and probably financially secure to returning to Israel as a widow and being poor. There’s a reason Scripture tells us to care for widows in their distress (James 1:27), since it was hard for a woman, especially in ancient times, to recover financially after losing her spouse. Naomi was a foreigner without a husband and without sons. Scripture reveals the many times she wept (Ruth 1:9, 14).
Naomi responded to these circumstances in a way many of us would. She renamed herself: “‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter’” (Ruth 1:20).
Naomi identified so deeply with her bitterness that she took it on as a name. We must be careful about the names we attach to ourselves when we’re sad, lonely, hurting, and grieving. Naomi renamed herself based on her circumstances, not on who she was in God.
The name Naomi means “pleasant,” and she wanted to be renamed Mara, meaning “bitter.” Naomi saw herself as bitter and took this on as a name and identity, diminishing the sweet fragrance her Hebrew name exhibited. In other words, she exchanged her God-given name for the name dictated to her by her circumstances.
How many of us have renamed ourselves in the midst of a trial? Perhaps we’ve taken on qualities like “bitter” and “resentful,” or maybe we’ve let “Victim,” “Abused,” or “Neglected” become our new name. We can stay stuck and paralyzed if we name ourselves based on our grief. How many of us have renamed ourselves “Unworthy” and “Unloved” or been so heartbroken that we made a vow to never again open ourselves up to love?
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When we rename ourselves based on our circumstances, we’re taking our eyes off our Creator and the larger story of our life that extends past the tragedy we may be experiencing. No one would blame Naomi for being bitter. Her circumstances were devastating, but God did not give this new name to Naomi. He did not wish bitterness on her, and he wanted to be bigger to her than what was right in front of her.
I get it. Sometimes awful circumstances seem to surround us more than the reality of God. But be careful not to take on a new name in these seasons. We will face similar options as we respond to the storms in life. Will we respond like Orpah and go back to the familiar? Will we respond like Ruth and follow God to unknown places? Or will we be like Naomi and name ourselves based on our bitter circumstances?
I see no place in Scripture where we are given permission to rename ourselves. Instead, I see it is God who renames us. God gives us new names through Scripture, and he also has a new name saved up for us in heaven. Are you bitter because of your circumstances? Have you allowed these painful experiences to name you? Have you identified with these labels to the point that they are louder than the names God lovingly speaks over you?
Not only will pain hit our lives, but we will cause others pain too. When we’ve done wrong to others, have we given this sin permission to rename us? Do we call ourselves “One Who Messed Up” or “Failure” or “One Who Never Gets Things Right”? Yet if we’ve truly repented from our sinful choices or behavior, we must not take this sin on and rename ourselves because of it. We are not our sin, just as we are not our good deeds.
None of us who have turned away from our sin should be renamed by it. None of us should be consigned to the labels of our actions. We are so much more than our addictions, our achievements, our mistakes, our accidents. We are not defined by our struggles, our appearance, our failures, or our secrets. Here is the question: Are we willing to listen to how God sees us?
Taken from Your New Name: Saying Goodbye to the Labels That Limit by Esther Fleece Allen. Click here to learn more about this title.
Life is full of labels that limit, but God has a new name He longs for you to hear — a name that boldly declares freedom from your past and hope for your future. Join Esther Fleece Allen, bestselling author of No More Faking Fine, in this profound exploration of your God-given identity that no label can limit and no circumstance can shake.
Too often, our identity gets tangled up with our circumstances, and suddenly, the truth of who we are is colored by our relationship status, our job title, the shame of our past, or what others say about us.
People might pin toxic, untrue labels on your back. Life might knock you down. And you might even wrongly label yourself. But God never does. Our God-given identity is the truest thing about us, and God spends a lot of time in the Bible telling us who we are. It’s time to take Him at His word.
God’s names for you are not post-it-note provisions; they are names to be studied, taken to heart, and believed, all in the journey of becoming your truest self just as He created you to be. Let Your New Name be your first step in this journey of a lifetime. Learn more at YourNewNameBook.com.
Esther Fleece Allen loves to connect people around the world to practical, faith-centered tools for living through every season, good and bad. Esther is a graduate of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and is currently in seminary. When she’s not traveling to speak or teach, she enjoys making a home with her husband and children. Keep up with Esther’s growing family and global adventures at EstherFleeceAllen.com.
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