I didn’t expect it to happen as soon as it did.

 

Sarah and I having a conversation over food, as we normally did, only to be drowned out by our baby, demanding our attention, demanding to be involved.

 

Or finding I could no longer put my arm around Sarah without a third party nudging in between the two of us, pushing us apart, clinging to our legs, expecting to be part of a group hug.

 

From an early age, we hate to be left out, we hate to feel excluded. And yet, no matter how attentive our parenting, no matter how inclusive our family relationships, feeling left out is something all our children will experience.

 

I watch the pain of a two-year old being told “you’re not my friend anymore”, or the sadness of a sibling who gets left out of a game of their brother and sister. Or the sinking feeling as you realise that every child in the class has been invited to the birthday party except your own.

 

Being left out, being excluded, drains us of joy. But the reverse is also true – inclusion brings life.

 

In our former church, I saw it when our eldest son was invited to play the bongos. He was still very young, his beat was not always in time, and his concentration could waver, but the other musicians, with great tolerance and encouragement, welcomed him and made him feel part of the group. Consequently he loved it, even wanting to be at church early so as to practice with the group. Unusual behaviour even for (or maybe, especially for…) a vicar’s son! I’m glad to say here at St Barbara’s that spirit of inclusion has continued – he’s now an enthusiastic and fully signed-up member of the choir.

 

If inclusion brings life, then it is worth reminding ourselves that the most inclusive thing of all is God’s love. No one is excluded. No-one is left out. God loves everyone of us.

 

All of us are invited to his party.

 

How did you decide what to call your child?

Did you pore over baby name books for hours drawing up long-lists then short lists? Did you consult the top 100 popular names list? (Sophia and Muhammad top the 2014 list, by the way.) Did you look to family precedent and tradition?

Sometimes the choices are not particularly well thought through. My brother knew a Mr and Mrs Applehead who called their daughter Rosy…

Sometimes choices are determined by positive or negative associations of others who held that name. “We couldn’t possibly call them John. John nicked one of my sweets when I was five. I could never look at my child without being traumatised if we called him that.”

Sometimes we choose names because they are distinctive and different, only to discover that every other parent of a new-born that year had gone for the same distinctive and different name. Who, before Frozen, would have guessed that Elsa would suddenly become such a popular name?

And we have no idea of how the “image” of a name may change. One of my brothers was given a name which at the time was unusual, and brought to mind celtic folk music, only for the name “Kevin” to take on a whole different load of resonances a few years later, more associated with Essex and Ford Capris.

In other cultures, the meaning of names can take on much greater significance. The name can be seen to shape the child. In Africa, I have met many Mercy’s, Patience’s and Hope’s, though my favourite does still remain “Lovingkindness”.

But I wonder, if we could choose a name , regardless of how it sounded or how difficult it was to spell, regardless of tradition or popularity, but a name that our children would come to live out, I wonder what that name would be?

What name, what gift of blessing, would we choose to bestow upon our child? The fruit of God’s Spirit, mentioned in the Bible, seem not a bad place to start: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The writer of that list was a man formerly called Saul. But when God called him from stoning Christians to following Christ, he gave him a new name too: Paul, meaning “small, humble”.

This man who had proudly arrested, beaten and killed Christians was now their humble companion, willing to suffer, to serve the one who had met him on that Damascus road.

As we encounter Jesus in our daily lives, I wonder what new name God may want to give us.