Please say hello to our son, Solomon Gabriel Goff, our man of peace.
Our child didn’t have a name when he was born. Amy and I tried to pick one before he came, but each time the conversation came up it never seemed to go anywhere. I know this drove some of you crazy (and honestly I kind of enjoyed that part 😉 ). It’s a lot of pressure to choose what a person will be called for the rest of his life and we wanted to make sure we got it right, so we decided to wait until he was born and spend a few days with him to see what suits him best.
That approach actually turned out well for us because once we held him in our arms, none of our previous top choices felt like the right fit. So, we went back to the drawing board and revisited some names that we’d scratched from the list.
I was more interested in how the name sounded than what it meant, and Amy cared a lot about the meaning of the name. Prior to birth, we had a conversation about the name Sullivan. I liked how it sounded (and I liked the nickname Sully), but when we looked up what it meant it didn’t resonate with us:
From an Irish surname which was derived from Ó Súilleabháin meaning “descendant of Súilleabhán”. The name Súilleabhán means “little dark eye” in Irish.
Amy suggested Solomon as an alternative because it sounded similar, but I wasn’t feeling it at the time, so we dropped it. After the birth, I remembered that conversation and we revisited Solomon. We looked the name up and found that it means peace. That sounded nice, so we dug a little further and discovered that Solomon comes from the Hebrew name Shelomoh, which is derived from the Hebrew word shalom.
This sparked something for us. I knew that shalom didn’t just mean the kind of peace you feel when your life is going well; it’s something much greater, much more expansive:
The Bible describes the making of the world not only as the building of a house, but also as the weaving of a garment. God turned a chaos into a cosmos, and also turned a tangle into a tapestry. Woven garments were long in the making and valuable in ancient times, and therefore they were an apt metaphor for the wonder and character of the material world. The sea (Psalms 104:6), the clouds (Job 38:9), the lights of the sky (Psalms 104:1), and all the forces of nature (Psalms 102:26) are called garments that God has woven and now wears.
As a result, the world is not like a lava cone, the product of powerful random eruptions, but rather like a fabric. Woven cloth consists of innumerable threads interlaced with one another. Even more than the architectural image, the fabric metaphor conveys the importance of relationship. If you throw thousands of pieces of thread onto a table, no fabric results. The threads must be rightly and intimately related to one another in literally a million ways. Each thread must go over, under, around, and through the others at thousands of points. Only then do you get a fabric that is beautiful and strong, that covers, fits, holds, shelters, and delights.
God created all things to be in a beautiful, harmonious, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another. Just as rightly related physical elements form a cosmos or a tapestry, so rightly related human beings form a community. This interwovenness is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace.
“Shalom” is usually translated “peace” in English Bibles, but it means far more than what our English word conveys. It means complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension— physical, emotional, social, and spiritual— because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.
— Timothy Keller
Shalom for all
From the moment I found out we were pregnant I began a journey. I’ll save the full story for another time, but I basically took a step back and examined my life, digging up my past to better understand how I got to where I am, deconstructing everything I thought I knew about God, love, and life, and then slowly rebuilding a model of reality that better reflected what I believe is true.
During this reconstruction process, something began stirring in me that I couldn’t quite articulate. It’s almost as if a voice was calling out to me that I’d previously been too angry or cynical to hear. But, as soon as we determined our son’s name everything clicked: my soul was crying out for shalom, not only for myself but also for the world.
That quote earlier is from Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice. I’ve experienced some shalom in the forms he talks about (physical, emotional, social, spiritual) by striving to be physically healthier, to unpack and confront emotional baggage, and to seek and practice spiritual truths. However, the one dimension I hadn’t given much attention was social shalom. All I cared about was improving my own circumstances, and by focusing solely on myself I had become part of a great injustice.
When I prayed over my son for the first time after his birth, I prayed that he would fight for the oppressed, that he would stand up for those who couldn’t fend for themselves. I prayed that he would seek justice for the poor and show love to those who have been cast aside. I had no idea how aptly his name would promote this justice:
In general, to “do justice” means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to “do justice” means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor.
How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Human beings are like those threads thrown together onto a table. If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, for ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbors’ lives, then we may be literally on top of one another, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.
41 weeks and 6 days
We chose to give birth at a birth center in West End because we felt like it was a good balance between the freedom of a home birth and the safety of a hospital birth. One of their stipulations, though, is that if you don’t go into labor by 41 weeks and 6 days, you have to be transferred to a hospital to get induced because of the complications that can arise in post-term pregnancy.
A couple of weeks before our due date, Amy made a paper birth chain, each link representing a single day that we would remove as we got closer to the big date. She created enough links to get us to 41 weeks and 6 days, just in case we went past due. On each link she wrote a different birth affirmation to encourage us.
However, as our due date passed we became increasingly anxious the closer we got to our induction deadline. We did not want to go to the hospital. I tried to encourage Amy by reminding her that if he’s anything like his daddy, our son would wait until the last possible moment to do what he needed to do. And sure enough, he was born on the last day we were able to stay with the birth center.
After we had looked up what his name meant, we were still a little hesitant. We loved the meaning behind his name, but we wanted to be completely certain that’s what he should be called. We’d been home a few days before we realized we never removed the last couple of links from the birth chain. Amy went to read what was on the last link, the link that represented his birth date. She looked up at me, wide-eyed, and uttered, “You’ll never guess what it says.”
He will bring us peace and watch over us.
And so He did. On the sixth day of the forty-first week, God brought us Peace. God brought us Shalom. God brought us Solomon.