I was six when I learned God’s first name was Andy.
It fit in that special way you can’t put to words but only feel. On most days back then I would get home from school in time to make a peanut butter sandwich and watch a few reruns on the TV. My favorite was an old black and white about this sheriff and his deputy who lived in a town called Mayberry. That sheriff’s name was Andy just like God’s, and I thought it a fine thing because the Andy on TV was always so kind.
It was funny because I didn’t learn all of this at home. My mother and grandmother served as my spiritual guides growing up, as is common in the South. Most everything I learned about God came from them. But not God’s name. At the time, I could only conclude they never said because they never knew. To them, God was only that. God. Which must have made Him like Mister Howerton down the street or Mister Snyder next door, nice enough old men but never ones you’d feel comfortable spending some time with. Not a God fit to play some catch or gig some frogs or go exploring in the cornfields.
That was the sort of God I’d always wanted. Still do.
No, instead I learned God’s first name in the most unlikely of places—church. More specifically, the Mennonite place out on Route 608 where the tombstones were all old and haunted and where you went inside the sanctuary and didn’t say a word because that’s where God was, Him being so Big and Other and us being so Small and Plain. The church had no piano, no baptismal pool, no adornments of any kind except for the wooden cross hanging on the wall behind the pulpit. But you could always feel Something lingering along those plain white walls, and some part of you always felt that Thing was watching to see what you did.
We sang our hymns a capella. I mostly mouthed them and nothing more. But then one Sunday we sang a hymn I hadn’t heard before, and in those words was God’s first name—Andy. I still remember how that felt. The sudden realization, like two pieces of a puzzle you’ve never quite figured out suddenly fitting together with such perfection. Andy—yes. At that moment, God became someone I knew rather than feared. He’d always known my name and now I knew His, and that made us friends.
And it was all so plain. That’s what got me. All this time there was this profound bit of information just sitting there, right in the chorus of that song, and I could not for the life of me understand why no one else reacted the way I did. Everyone else merely kept on what they were doing, eyes down and voices straining and tired, wanting to just get on with things. It was as if they didn’t even know what they were singing. I remember nudging my mother and father, trying to make them see. They didn’t. If my memory is right, all Dad did was tell me to hold still for just one hour. I went away from church that Sunday thinking the only thing I could—I’d been given some secret meant for no one else.
For months I sprinkled my prayers with God’s real name. “Dear Andy” and “Thank you, Andy,” and “Hey Andy.” You wouldn’t believe the difference it made. There were times as a kid when I’d catch myself thinking all I did was talk to the ceiling. Now, it felt like there was actually somebody there. Someone listening just like the Andy on the TV, looking at your mouth and your eyes and nodding his head with a grin.
Of course, none of this was bound to last. At a certain point I learned to read a little better and pay attention a little more, at which point I stumbled upon the truth of that song.
Not: “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am His own.”
But: “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.”
It was a tough thing to figure out. Like a lot of things you discover as you grow up, knowing I’d been wrong didn’t make me feel nearly as stupid as it did sad. The God I learned about at church was someone so completely different, so utterly powerful and holy, that He scared me. But Andy? That was a God I knew loved me and a God I knew I loved.
You can take anything you want from this. I’m not going to try to get overly theological. I’ll only say that there have been many times over the years when the world goes gray and the burdens pile up and everything gets so tired and utterly lost that I feel much more as the boy I was rather than the man I am. Maybe that’s true for all of us. Could be our bodies and minds grow old but our souls never do, that deep down we’re all just scared little kids. But it’s in those times when I’ll go for a walk or stare up to a darkened ceiling, and I’ll say much the same at forty-four as I did at six.