I’ve always received a lot of attention for my name – Samara J’aime Strauss. It’s a unique mouthful that represents many different nationalities and meanings. My mother actually chose ‘Samara’ because though she liked ‘Samantha’, she thought it would be too difficult for a young child to spell. ‘Samara’ came with the blessing of my Jewish grandmother (meaning “guarded by God” in Hebrew), while offering a seemingly easier spelling and pronunciation (though I’ve since learned this is not the case!).
As an aspiring actress from a young age, I perpetually pondered the perfect stage name. Though my parents chose ‘Sami Strauss’ for my headshots, I thought simply going by ‘Samara’ would be much more elegant and sophisticated. After all, some of the most famous actors and singers were known by a single name.
Eventually, the time came when I finally met my beloved.
Not only did I have to contemplate my new name, but also my new identity as a wife. Should I hyphenate? Should my maiden name be my middle name? Should I shun tradition and keep my maiden name?
I’ve always liked my middle name (“J’aime” means ‘I love’ in French), so I knew that had to stay. For a short while I tried keeping the whole mouthful, “Samara J’aime Strauss Cone,” but who really wants to say all that when answering the phone at work or writing a check? For some reason, people have always had a difficult time pronouncing and spelling Strauss, even though it is a rather common European, Jewish name (you know, like the composer and the jeans?) So I ultimately landed on Samara J’aime Cone.
Perhaps the more difficult struggle for me was one of pride. You see, I always imagined I would make a name for myself: first as an actress, then as a singer and, somewhere in between, as a tennis pro and writer. The only problem was that by the time I was ready to get married, I had yet to achieve my imagined celebrity status!
Believe it or not, I actually thought to myself, “If I become famous now, who will know it’s really me?”
Even as a Christian, I still experienced conflict between making the most of my spiritual gifts and actually getting noticed and praised for doing so.
At that moment of realization, it finally dawned on me: If I’m doing things only for others – so that someone will notice me – I will always walk away empty. For some reason, I thought that I could both serve God and be thanked for that service at the same time.
Fast forward to today.
Society’s standard for success is not that far off from my misconceptions. People are still seeking out a corner office, a fancy title or an entourage. Our current definition of success usually measures what we have instead of who we are as individuals. I recently heard a Biola professor on the radio who even challenged how Christians give today. Too often we give of our money and time in an effort to get something in return, especially recognition. Instead of giving purely from a grateful heart, our motivation now seems to stem from a free gift or the chance to see our name engraved somewhere in our church.
Selfish ambition is described in Galatians 5:20 as one of the desires of our sinful nature.
Romans 15:18 offers a stern warning against such things: Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me (NIV).
Perhaps Philippians 2:2-4 sums it up best by saying: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (NIV).
In an era of reality stars and YouTube, I would imagine I’m not alone in my visions of fame. In fact, a recent survey that asked kids what they most wanted to be when they grew up returned some surprising results.
Long gone are the days when our youth dreamed of becoming firefighters and astronauts; the No. 1 answer from today’s kids is “famous,” followed closely by “millionaire.” They don’t seem to care about what they do as long as people know who they are. This is a dangerous trend.
I’ve learned an important lesson: if God’s not in it, it’s not worth it. The only fame I now crave is famous obscurity, that I might be a conduit for the message of God’s love, grace and peace. I pray that people don’t see me, but instead see Christ in me, that I would decrease and that the Holy Spirit would increase in me.
Whatever you are doing this summer, stop today and check your motivation. Beware of serving your own personal interests instead of doing things solely for the glory of God. If you’re spending too much time thinking about how you can make a name for yourself, you’re most likely not actually doing anything for the sake of furthering God’s Kingdom. Whether you’re going on vacation, a mission trip or to a local gathering with friends, whose name do you want to be on the lips of those around you after you leave their presence – yours or God’s?
If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord. –1 Corinthians 1:31.