It started about a week before Easter. In the span of a morning, I felt like everyone who worked for me had either stopped me in the parking lot, ambushed me in the hallway, or popped into my office, all beginning with an eager, insistent “Ma’am…” I closed my door for a moment, looked up at the ceiling, and whispered, “Can I just not be ‘Ma’am’ for today? Can I please just be ‘Jessie’ for a bit?” Outside of church and family, literally the only one who calls me ‘Jessie’ is the local Starbucks barista – and that’s only because that’s the name I tell them to write on my drink.
Why does it matter? I mean, being called “Ma’am” is some indicator that I’ve gotten to a pretty sweet place professionally. And when I’m not called “Ma’am,” people normally use Short SKATE – my callsign – which, in and of itself, has special meaning to me. But “Jessie” is who I am underneath and outside the uniform. It’s informal and vulnerable. It’s what those who truly know me can and will call me. It’s probably the truest version of myself.
As the Easter weekend began, I thought about how powerful names – and the names we are called by – actually are. Jesus could easily have said, “You will address me as Lord.” And we would have. Obviously. And we do, because He is. But we also get to call Him Jesus. There’s something intimate in that. Jesus gave His life so we could have life, but He gave His name so we could have relationship.
When I found myself whispering at the ceiling, I wasn’t bemoaning my leadership status; I was craving community. I’ve held fast to the definition of community that I learned many years ago while in IVCF:
Community is knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served, celebrating and being celebrated.
This definition, of course, leaves out the reality that community is having important, heated discussions, but trusting the others in the discussion and being open to, and grateful for, the perspectives they bring. Community is being held accountable, where shame isn’t used as a weapon, and everyone is invested in everyone else’s growth. Community is protected, valued, safe.
Community is precious, and I think we all long for the deep bonds that come with it. We long to be known by name – real name, not just a rank or a title. We long to be able to rest in the security of being loved so much that there is a profound trust and security in how we act and speak and risk. We long to be able to pour into others, even as they pour into us, because there’s nothing but growth in such relationships. And wow, don’t we long to be celebrated?
We long for these things, but we worry about the vulnerability that is necessary to make community happen. I challenge you to lean forward – with people you trust – into community. Know their names – their real, preferred names, and know them. Love them. Serve them. Celebrate them. And may the same be done for you.