Monday, April 21, 2014

"I Will Change Your Name"

One of my all-time favorite religious songs promises a transformative name-change as an indication of the work that God does in our spiritual formation.  Those of us who have experienced great trauma and loss are quite familiar with these names:  "Wounded," "Outcast," "Lonely" and "Afraid."  These "names" very aptly describe fallout from the devastation we have experienced.  And very few of us escape life without experiencing these descriptive conditions at least once.

I've thought a lot about my name and made the difficult decision to change it recently.  When I was just a young woman, I chose to take my husband's name upon our marriage.  I was happy to be "Mrs. Smith," and proud of the truth that my new name pointed to:  I was cherished, loved and connected to a man who had made sacred vows to me.  My new name reflected the monumental decision I had made to leave my father's household and join my husband in creating a new family, based on that original commitment.

When devastation and betrayal visited our household, I was too consumed with the drama of my trauma to think about any more changes.  And, I was frankly used to my married name--I had been "Mrs. Smith" far longer than I was "Miss Jones."  My married name also connected me to my adult children and provided a semblance of stability in a world that was precariously unstable.

When I read the transcripts of my ex-husband's bench trial, however, it became quite clear that the man I thought I had married, as a starry-eyed young woman, didn't exist and probably never existed.  The marriage I thought I had was based on a series of devastating lies and misrepresentations.  All of the cherished memories of my marriage that remained seemed tainted and inauthentic.  The name no longer felt comfortable to me.

I realize that my children's perspective is quite different.  The last name that we have shared is their birthright and aside from their father's criminal activity, it is a good name.  Their grandfather was the family genealogist and has traced their lineage back several centuries.  They were born into the "Smith" family and can proudly carry that name for as long as they choose to.  Their father was a good dad to them , loving them in all of the appropriate and good ways and none of the bad.  And the name they carry is based on an undeniable fact of relationship--he was and always will be their father.

But, I assumed that same name because of promises and vows that have been broken.  It is a name I chose based
on my love for a man who betrayed my trust and sacrificed what I thought we had on the altar of selfish sexual gratification.  The name brings pain to me and is no longer a name I am proud to carry because the relationship upon which it is based exists no longer, it it ever existed.

So, I am now legally "Ms. Jones" and I look forward to discovering just who this woman who resides in my body really is.  I abandoned her just as I abandoned her name, so I need to get reacquainted.  Marriage was far more than a legal or spiritual union for me--it involved laying aside my identity, not just my name, and assuming a new one.  Changing my name involves reclaiming me, maintaining my precious ties to my children, but finding me again.  It is another step in recovery and transformation; it reconciles my inner and outer realities and emboldens me to continue the quest for healing and authenticity.  My new, old name is based on a relationship that I have now with me.  I have changed my name.