I’ve spent all week thinking about labels. Why we have them, and what they mean.
Some labels are really useful, and provide valuable information. Ticking a box that says I’m female means the doctor will never feel the need to discuss penile cancer with me, whilst identifying myself as a Coles employee means I get discounts others wouldn’t. Personally, I like those labels. I’m very fond of them. 🙂
Other labels, are not so great. The ones people give without really knowing who you are; a judgement made in haste. Labels such as ‘incompetent’, or ‘rude’, or a ‘terrible mother,’ all because someone caught you on the wrong moment of the wrong day.
I really don’t like those labels.
I’ve been thinking about all the tags I carry; the ones given rightly and the ones applied not so correctly. The names that are given to me by others, and the names I give myself.
Without a doubt, the worst ones are from me. Don’t get me wrong, it churns me up inside when I know someone has labelled me hastily and incorrectly, but there is a certain peace in knowing that it’s not true. I can fight that uncomfortable feeling because I know it to be false.
The labels I give myself though; they are brutal. Brutal, awful, judgemental, condescending words that I would never dare inflict on another, and yet I drown myself in them all the time. It’s hard to see those words as anything but truth. After all, I know myself better than anyone. Surely I would be the most aware of my flaws, and am the only person who can change them? Surely if any definition about myself is going to be right, the one I give will be it?
I had a discussion with someone the other day about a person who refuses to get professional help, despite an obvious need. Their concern is being labelled. They don’t want anyone saying who or what they are, and being defined by those words for the rest of their natural life. They can see nothing worse.
And yet, as an outside looking in, I defy that logic. A label does not change who you are, just as the absence of one does not make you any less of something. We are what we are, regardless of how people see us, and regardless of how we see ourselves.
Now obviously owning some of those labels is helpful and good. Small children need to learn very early on what their gender is, and their surname. That family name provides their first understanding of who they are; part of a family, and thus something bigger than themselves.
As we grow older and we learn more about ourselves, we use those labels to help us grow. We discover that we are introverted, or have a love language of kind words. We learn that writing makes us feel alive, or that a day without running is too terrible to contemplate. We become a profession, and let people know automatically what our passion is; we have a baby and suddenly with the label mother, we learn a little more about the world and our place in it.
Those labels can give us purpose and meaning and direction, but they can just as easily confine us in a box we were never made to live in. They box us in and before you know it being ‘mum’ turns into ‘just a mum’ and what was a part of who you are, has suddenly whittled you down to nothing more than chief child wrangler.
Those words that helped define you, have suddenly made you less than you ever were.
One of my proudest labels is Christian. I’m so in love with the fact that I have a belief system that is more real to me than anything else. That one word and it’s meaning (Christ follower) is my strongest definition. It speaks of who I am, what I believe and what motivates me to live my life the way I live it.
It’s an incredibly liberating and fulfilling label.
Except that I have twisted it, and warped it in some ways to a point where it no longer represents its true meaning. I’ve based my life around the necessity to ‘follow the rules‘ when instead I should just be following Jesus. I’ve made my life about what I can do, or could be, instead of remembering that everything I am is because of what He has done.
I’ve beat myself up every day of my life for not being the ‘perfect Christian’ when the truth is, there is no such thing. The church is not full of perfect people; just ordinary human beings who God calls His own. The greatest definition of who I am, and the only label that can ever accurately describe me is the one that God the gave me, when I decided to quit following my own agenda, and live my life His way.
And it is simply one word:
I am forgiven and owned by the creator of the universe, intimately known, perfectly loved and wonderfully designed for a purpose greater than I could possibly dream of. I am more than Just Jess, or Essentially Jess or anything else.
I am His.
And that’s the label I like most of all.