My dog Joey and I have been going to dog training classes. The other day, our instructor gave us a homework assignment: to pair saying our dog’s name with offering something good. We were to say our dog’s name and immediately produce a toy or a small special treat or the leash for a walk. (As a corollary, she urged us NOT to use our dogs’ names to call them for “icky stuff” like a nail clipping or a bath—and certainly not for scolding.) The purpose: So that when we call our dogs by name, they will respond in expectant trust.
As I have practiced this with Joey, it has occurred to me that this is how God calls our names—not to scold us or to shame us but to let us know that we are loved and to encourage us to be expectant and trusting.
Isn’t that part of the Easter story? For those who observe Holy Week, this week can be a difficult one with its various liturgies that bear witness to the betrayal, judgment, and pain that Jesus suffered in the final days and hours before his death. But on Easter Sunday morning, when the Risen Christ calls Mary Magdalene by name, although she does not recognize his body, she does recognize his voice. It is a voice she knows to be loving and trustworthy.
Even amid the beauty of the season of spring, hardships can invade our lives. The betrayal, judgment, and pain recalled liturgically in Holy Week happen over and over again each day in our broken world—if not right now in our own lives, then in the lives of friends or those we hear about in the news. But what if through it all we could hear God’s voice calling to us in love, instilling in us a trustful expectancy?
Perhaps God speaks our names through the redbud and dogwood blossoms or through the melodies of a song on the radio. Perhaps God speaks our names through a meal brought over by a neighbor or in the impulse to respond gently to someone we love, despite our irritation at something that particular loved one has said or done (or not said or not done). For me, perhaps God speaks to me even through the way my dog Joey looks at me now when I say his name.
What about you? How might God be calling your name this week? Today? Right now?
My prayer this week is that we each listen expectantly for God to call our names. That we develop a habit of hearing God’s voice in surprising ways and places. And that we become more and more able to respond with gratitude, love, and trust.