When I was a teenager, I had a friend whose name was Mabel. She was a beautiful girl, inside and out. But she was unhappy with her name because it was associated with a song about a woman whose character was immoral.

When she became an adult, she changed her name to Chris (short for Christian) and claimed all that went with her new name. Like most of her friends, I was happy for her assertiveness and for a name that was more closely associated with her character.

The Bible has a story about a man named Jabez whose name means “he brings pain.” Jabez did not try to change his name, but he did ask God to help him not to cause pain to others but instead to bless him and enlarge his territory. It is a brief but significant point in the Book of First Chronicles.

Some of us live with monikers that our parents have given us at birth. We may never be happy with that name. More importantly, the name may be associated with behavior. Few of us would want to be called “pain.” So what do we do with such an unhappy circumstance?

Chris changed her name. Interestingly, the Book of Revelation talks about some followers getting “new names” in heaven. God may give you a new one, but you may not want to change your name on earth.

But each of us has the option of changing our behavior so that we don’t bring “pain” on others. How do we accomplish that?

First, we live the life that describes who we want to be.

If I want to be a “joy” to others, I learn to smile and speak positively to those around me. I find the good in others and affirm that in my words about them. Finding the best in another person is not only satisfying for me but also reflects what friendship is about.

Second, I begin to express gratitude regularly for the good things in my life. Try thanking someone every day for their positive input into your life. A friend told me that an attitude of gratitude makes your life a be-attitude! I think that’s a purpose to pursue! David Dunn wrote a fascinating book around 1920 which he entitled “Try Giving Yourself Away.” The premise was that what we give away to someone else is what we really keep. Jesus said it another way: “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake keeps it.” In Jesus’ gift of himself for us, we discover the model of sacrificial service.

Finally, the names given us are only a part of our identity. We reflect who we really are through our attitudes and our actions. You and I can determine how we are known by the lasting influences of our lives.

Perhaps we, too, can learn to pray that God would bless us and make the blessing of our life an ”enlarged territory” to include many others in that joy.

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as the president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is a Canton resident.

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