In the Jewish tradition, when someone is named, it’s believed that the essence of who that person is, is being named and drawn out. It’s why Adam’s name is a play on the Hebrew word for Earth, having been made from the dust of the Earth, and why Abram, a name meaning exalted father, is changed to Abraham, meaning a father of a multitude, after God tells him of the descendents he’ll have outnumbering the stars in the sky.
I’m not Jewish, but I’ve always liked this idea, and when it came time to name my own two boys, my husband and I searched for names we liked, but also names that had meanings we wanted to represent these children and the essence we wanted drawn out of them.
Asher, in Hebrew means “blessed; happy”.
And Pace in Latin means “peace”.
They seemed as a good a meaning as any when it came to what I dreamt for my boys. If only it was that simple.
If only we, as parents, could pick the trajectory we wanted for our children by simply speaking into existence the defining characteristics we want them to embody.
It didn’t take long before I realized this is not how parenting goes, and the names and meaning I wanted so badly for them, actually had more to do with the meanings and characteristics I wanted exemplified in myself but didn’t always find as easily as I wanted.
I did it with their names like other parents do it with their child and sports, or pageants, or academic interests, or colleges, or job choices. Something in us as parents sees our children as the chance to make right where we went wrong, to live vicariously through them and the choices they have, that we no longer have. We are more tempted to see them as extensions of ourselves, as a second chances instead of these entirely other, unique and individualized human beings, who came from us sure, but who are autonomous and unique and not at all under our control.
* * *
When I became a parent, I found that having other parents around to not just raise children alongside of, but to be sounding boards to my neurosis and fears and uncertainties was a must. These days, as we raise our children into becoming more and more adult like, in their thinking and in their learning, I’ve found a common thread coming from the parents we parent with.
A lot of us are wondering what to do about faith.
We’ve noticed the faith of our own childhood looking different from the faith we have now, the things we thought were certain and strong and made as much sense as anything else, to not be as sturdy as we had assumed. It isn’t that we don’t believe. It’s that the belief is so different from where it once started, the metric of faith so other. We are glad to have arrived where we have in this journey of discovery. But it took a minute to get there. So how do we teach with any kind of authority about faith to our kids when so much feels dismantled, rearranged and unsettled for us personally?
I’ve wondered about this a lot. And wondered how to look my boys in their eyes and give them answers, when in truth, the answers feel more slippery than they once were, and my confidence in them weakening, not strengthening, my understanding more nuanced and less straightforward.
* * *
I named my boys Asher and Pace, “happy” and “peace”, because I wanted so badly for them to have what sometimes feels allusive for me. I can be a melancholy, and get in a funk for no reason at all. Sometimes just being happy is hard. I can keep myself up at night running circles in my mind over the “what if’s” and the “if only’s”. Sometimes peace is a pipe dream.
When I dig down deep enough, I realize the thing I want most for my children is safety, to be spared from some of the harder things in life—maybe the hardest things being the stuff inside we can’t do anything to change. I want them to have an easier path than I did. I want to speak it into existence. I want to name it and claim it to be true.
* * *
I think the uncertainty about how to tackle faith with my boys is born from the same place as the desire to name them the way I did. I want to teach them with certitude the things I’ve come to land on so they don’t have to have a period of dismantling, readjusting, rerouting. I want to teach them starting at the finish line, to spare the hardship the journey of faith sometimes initiates in its three steps forward, two steps back.
But what is true about their names is also true about their faith. They are their own. And to wish for them a life of only happiness, peace, and assurance in the big stuff of God, Scripture and all things spiritual—because the alternative is hard—is to rob them of who they are and the distinctly personal trajectory their individual lives will take.
Their story is not mine to write. It is mine to start. And then? To be present should the happiness evade, the peace escape, the faith feel more wobbly than they expect.
So I’ll teach my boys on matters of faith like they are starting at square one. With concrete ideas. And certitude. With a lot of wonder but also with a lot of legality. Because they are children. And I’m okay with that. I am not going to introduce a dissonance they don’t yet feel. I’m not going to over complicate what to their young and developing minds feels straightforward and digestible. Even if square one for me was abandoned a long time ago, it was where I had to begin to get where I am now. And besides, that was my journey. It isn’t fair to start theirs at the place mine took 36 years to get to. Especially, when I’m pretty sure I won’t stay where I am now either. In fact, maybe I was wrong to believe that to teach them about faith meant I had to come from a place of having “arrived” myself, when the greatest gift could be a mom en route, in progress, in process.
My objective is to build a foundation in my boys. Not a finished product. And that means we put in place the cornerstones, and also some other pieces that may not stand up over time, but will serve their purpose for right now.
* * *
I named my boys Asher and Pace, happy and peace because I wanted it for me and I wanted it for them—not realizing it was mine to go after myself, and theirs to go after on their own. And I feared I couldn’t teach them a faith that was mine when I didn’t quite understand myself, not realizing faith was mine to introduce to them in the size and space and understanding that matched their minds, and not mine from my own journey to force into the constructs of their hearts and souls.
The story is better when it’s theirs to own, and not mine to dictate. It takes the pressure off me, and gives freedom to them to be their own person. To fight their own battles. Not mine. To posses their own faith. Not mine. To be who they were meant to be, not who I want them to be.
Which means I will hope for their happiness. I will pray for their peace. And I will work alongside them as they do the work of building a faith that stands up against all the world has to throw.