Anything But Empty

"Let your words be anything but empty."

Speaking Names

We are at once both desperate and terrified of being known. This is not a particularly original thought nor am I the first to have observed and experienced this in my own life, but as I attempted several times to write over the past few days, this is where my thoughts kept going: this and to that moment in the garden when Mary Magdalene recognized her risen Savior.

The Gospel of John describes this beautiful reveal in way that never does not end with me blinking away tears so that I can unblur the page.

Mary is standing before an empty tomb, a heart already shattered from grief and longing and loss, believing someone has stolen the body of her Lord, taking away the meager comfort that came with at least the certainty of knowing where his body lay. This gives way to even more confusion and even more uncertainty, so much so that she does not recognize Jesus standing before her.

She did not recognize the man who saved her, who she listened to, who she learned from, who she served and loved and followed all the way to the foot of the cross. She does not recognize him even when he speaks to her.

“Woman, why are you crying?” Nothing. This man is still a stranger to her.

“Who are you looking for?” Still nothing. She believes him to be the gardener, and asks him if he can tell her where the body was taken.


“Mary.” He speaks her name, one word, and she knows him.
I don’t know what prompted this sudden recognition. Perhaps shock had abated. Maybe she was able to get a better look. Maybe he stepped closer or out of a shadow that fell on his face. Maybe she didn’t dare believe it, because, like many who have lost loved ones, her heart had already leapt with joy when she mistakenly believed she saw his face in the crowd the day before, only to have it break all over again when she remembered. I don’t know.

But when I read it, I imagine that it was in the way he spoke her name, the gentle tenderness of the cadence or the intimate familiarity of it on the mouth of her Lord.
Perhaps, she was a woman who, until this man, had never heard her name spoken with love, without condescension or condemnation. Maybe he was the first person to see her, to truly see her, and speak her name as one who did.

When he spoke her name, she fell at his feet and worshiped him.

When he spoke her name, she knew him. How could she not?

I am not attempting exegesis to draw a grand moral and doctrinal point which may or may not have been intended in this passage, rather calling attention to the part of me to which it speaks.

That place that is longing to be seen. That part of us we long for others to see, but can only be seen by stepping out, trembling, into the light, where all our carefully, constructed Instagram filters, and Facebook persona’s aren’t there to mask just how messy we really are.

It’s a longing that is met when someone speaks the truth of who we are to us when we forget ourselves.

It’s a longing that is met when we feel worthless and hopeless and dirty, when we can’t speak our own names without hatred because it’s so ugly and vile to us, and then Jesus speaks our name to us with more tenderness and hope than we ever believed was possible; “child”… “mine”… “Mary.”

And we are reminded of who He is, and we are reminded who we are in him. It’s like hearing it for the first time, fresh and new, free of the baggage we have attached to it.

We will certainly forget again. We will forget how He loves us. We will forget who are becoming through that love. We lose sight of it for our flaws and failures.

During those times, it may be that those who love us will be the ones to remind us. Those who we have shown ourselves to, deeply and intimately, so that they too can speak our name so that we hear it all over again, not just the ugly that comes with it. I know for me, something profoundly beautiful happens when someone who knows me and loves me anyway, says my name, in that particular way in that particular moment.

But we’ve tried. We’ve shown the ugliest, darkest, messiest parts of ourselves to someone only to have it thrown back in our face and all our worst fears confirmed; that we aren’t worthy to be loved. We question if anyone can love us, maybe we question if God could too. Through words, spoken and unspoken, through actions, and apathy, people hurt each other all the time.

It’s one of the many catch-22’s of being human; hurt rarely happens in isolation, and neither does healing. The hurt drives us into isolation, and the isolation makes the wound fester, but to break our isolation means to venture out into the world, and risk that wound being opened, or risk entirely new ones at the hands of someone new. Because letting ourselves be seen, letting ourselves be known doesn’t always result in being fully loved when it comes to people, and, maybe, it’s not worth the risk.

But in that place of hiding, in an attempt to protect ourselves, we lose ourselves. We forget who we are. We aren’t showing people who we are, so there’s no one to remind us.
There’s no one there to speak our name in such a way that makes us believe that we are more.

I want to hear that name and I want to be a type of woman who shares it with others, for their sake and my own. And in turn, I want to be a woman who loves in such a way that people will trust me with their names, their story, their true self, so that I too can have that precious right to speak it when they forget, as we point on another to the One never forgets.

There are times I can’t hear Jesus saying my name, my real name, and all I can hear is what I’ve convinced myself it is.

But there are some moments, when I hear it. I hear it from those who I have trusted with myself, I hear it from those who are teaching me to be brave and vulnerable and to lay down the false bravado of the “I don’t care what people think” mentality because it’s easier than facing the reality of what someone may have thought about me, and how deeply that hurt, and how deeply it altered how I hear my name. I hear it from those who do know me, and who have let themselves be known by me. These people remind me that yes my person, my being, my value is rooted in Christ alone, but that sometimes I do need people to remind me of that.

And when they do, I can hear more clearly the person that Christ is making me into. And it reminds me, always, of the moment in the garden and how at the sound of her own name, wrapped in that voice, made everything clear, and she worshiped Him.

How could my response be any different?


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