You probably base your self-image on past experiences. If you’ve failed, you feel like a failure. If you’ve made poor decisions, you think of yourself as stupid. That’s the old way of thinking. When you gave your life to Jesus, he made you entirely new. Your poor choices—made either before or after beginning a relationship with Jesus—do not define you. You need to feel good about yourself or you will never live the life God has for you.
– Leon Fontaine, The Spirit Contemporary Life
The other day I received yet another free gift in the mail. It seems that once you give to a charity, your name gets around. It must be an effective way of incentivizing donations—mailing out calendars, note pads, labels, cards, coins, stickers.
As I was opening my latest envelope—from a charity I had never heard of—I perused the enclosed gifts; the Christmas address labels went into the trash—my name has been misspelled for years with a small “a” and I just couldn’t do it again. Then my eyes landed on the Christmas gift labels. I might keep those.
My relationship with labels, though, has become rather intense lately.
There are some labels I just love. I thrive on order, and anything that helps me achieve that is comparable to Sony and Cher (yes, I know they broke up later, but I’m still in denial).
Labels help my life run more efficiently. They let me know what I and my family and friends can find in certain bins without digging. Labels tell me what package goes to which special person. They tell me what ingredients and nutrition are in a bag or can. They tell me how I can most effectively wash each item of clothing.
There is another type of label, though, that I am disliking the more I get acquainted with it... And those are labels we place on people.
I think we often mean well. We seek to understand our world, and we think labeling people helps.
But sometimes these kinds of labels have the opposite effect. Rather than helping clarify, they limit. And worse yet, they are often inaccurate.
And often these labels are very negative: lazy, bossy, arrogant, slow, judgmental.
And lately there have been a lot of “-ist” and “-ic” labels buzzing around like a pesky wasp I can’t seem to get away from: racist, sexist, misogynist, transphobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, xenophobic.
Not so long ago…okay, a really long time ago…in one of my college writing courses, the professor strove to steer us away from writing what she called flat (stereotypical, predictable) characters. She said people are round in real life (complicated/complex/multi-dimensional).
Labels do not acknowledge these nuances and dimensions.
One of the labels my daughter gets frequently is “extrovert,” and although this is generally true, there are situations that clam her up tighter than an oyster protecting its pearl.
And often labels are outright wrong.
I still, to my horror, remember the time I hastily labeled a young boy a probable rebel with his long hair only to find out he was growing it out for cancer patients. And then there was the time I labeled a gal controlling and bossy, only to have her become a dear friend whom I greatly admire.
In college I had slapped on me the label of “gold digger” by someone who was disappointed and hurt. Being a small-enough campus, word got around. This label attributed to some in my husband’s family mistrusting me for quite some time.
And then there are the negative labels I put on myself. I am not a high-energy, leader-type person who wants to take on Mount Everest. I prefer a slow pace and trying to be effective daily in little ways with the gifts God has given me. With age and learning to secure my identity with Christ, I’m usually okay with that, but there are still times when I look at my friends that seem to accomplish more in a day than I do in a week, that I label myself Lazy, Ineffective or Unimportant.
How about you?
What negative labels have you put on yourself that are hurtful? How about some you have used a little too quickly about others? What labels pigeon-hole, oversimplify or are outright inaccurate?
I want to remind you this Christmas, dear friend, of the labels God uses for you.
When you have come to him in repentance and acceptance of his free, paid-for gift, he labels you:
Forgiven. Child of God. Son. Daughter. Conquerer. Spotless. Dearly loved. Redeemed. Spiritually-blessed. Free. Righteous. Justified. Friend. Seated in heavenly places. Holy. Strengthened. Full of power, love, and self-control. (1 John 1:9 & 3:1, Gal. 3:26; 4:6-7; Romans 8:14-15; John 1:12 & 15:15; Phil. 3:20 & 4:13; Eph. 2:6; 2 Tim. 1:7; Acts 1:8; Col. 3:12)
These are your labels. That is how God sees you!
If you have labels other than the ones God has given you, please dear friend rip them off and throw them in the trash. Instead, read the labels that God has affixed to you. Read the labels out loud until you believe them!
And join me in ripping off the labels we have placed on others that limits who they are and who they can become in Christ.
That may be one of the greatest gifts we can give to God, to ourself, and to each other this Christmas season.
Our Heavenly Father, we praise and thank you for your great love for us. For humbling yourself to come as a babe in a manger and to later take on our deserved punishment. We praise you for your gift of amazing grace. We are yours. Let us affix the label of Whose we are so your love and grace pours out of us. Amen.