I had one of those milestone birthdays in the recent past. One of those birthdays that makes you scratch your head and wonder how I got this old. As I get older, I do find myself a little more nostalgic and I was recently thinking of younger days and some of the lessons I learned early on that have served me well, one of which is the subject of this message.
“Now, remember what your last name is, son.” Those words were usually the last words I would hear my father say when I got to be old enough to go out with my friends on my own. It was of course a much deeper statement than checking my memory for accuracy. It was a prompt to remember my identity and remind me of who I was and what that meant.
By remembering my last name, I remembered what that name stood for. The kind of conduct I was expected to model. The values I was expected to live by. The truth I was expected to speak and that I was to return home with no regrets of the decisions I had made that night.
Identity is a big deal. Stolen identity, mistaken identity, forgotten identity are all ways our lives can be turned upside down whether our fault or the fault of someone or something else. It is a situation we don’t often think about until it hits us in the face. The truth is, the further we become separated from our identity the more difficulty we tend to find ourselves in.
The biblical character Daniel and his three friends we mostly know by their Babylonian names — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — had an identity crisis they had to deal with. Daniel, one of the four, was also given a Babylonian name, Belteshazzar. Why were they given new names? As captives of the invading Babylonian culture, they were to be assimilated into their new home of Babylon. Changing their identity was part of that plan.
Daniel and his three friends were put to the test. Would they forget who they were in this faraway place? Would they try to find acceptance by participating in the things they had been taught not to do? They were accountable to no one from home and were in a foreign land with no one to know the difference, except themselves.
The book of Daniel records the decisions and actions of the four Israelite young men. I encourage you to read the whole story on your own, but for brevity, these are Daniel’s words, speaking for the four captive Hebrew young men:
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Spoiler alert: Daniel and his friends retained their identity when put to the test. The end result? They were exonerated and excelled. The peers in their company who presumably were not so convicted are lost to history.
Too often it is a mistake we make when we want to “fit in,” gain acceptance or when attempting to reinvent ourselves. When we leave our true identity behind we lose an anchor to hold us through the tests and difficulties of life. Staying true to who we are, our faith and convictions is not always easy in the moment but better for us in the long run.
In retrospect, my dad’s advice was a great boundary for me. It kept me in better places than I might have found myself had I forgotten who I was. I am thankful for his gentle reminder.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold.
Stephen Brown is reverend at Kenai New Life Assembly of God.