A recent meeting ended with comments about labels, particularly those labels that can degrade us and divide us, labels being used by society to define us.
Last week was Independence Day. We shot off fireworks and celebrated who we are as Americans. Before the air cleared and the debris was cleaned up, we were back to the oh-so-very challenging news cycle and its rhetoric: red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, far left and far right, pro this, anti that.
Oh, Those Labels
One label brought us together. Other labels pushed us apart.
Some labels fill us hope and encouragement, excitement and empowerment. They make us feel included.
Some labels discourage us, fill us with despair, limit us, and deny who we really are. They make us feel excluded.
The grouping of people and things has always been important. Labels described a creation of living creatures, livestock, wild animals, birds and fish, humankind. Those labels helped us better understand the magnitude of God’s creation: all living creatures, all the wild animals, all of us.
But God’s creation has a uniqueness that transcends those labels, those bigger labels. One of Adam’s first jobs was to name the animals
“and whatever (he) called them, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19).
Ducks were distinguished from robins, camels from giraffes, bunnies from squirrels, dogs from cats.
Names gave the animals a separate identity. They do that for us also.
Labels can mask our uniqueness. Our names more clearly identify it.
Remembering Who We Are and Whose We Are
We’re daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, friends, those bigger labels, but we’re not just daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, and friends. You’re you. I’m me. You’re Karen. You’re Gayle. I’m Kyle’s mom. I’m Austin’s grandmother.
I think God always meant for our names and those labels to be beautiful descriptors, not limiting characterizations.
I also think God meant for our names and those labels to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Remember, God’s labeling of us put us in the middle of His great family.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
(1 John 3:1)
So how can we make sure names and labels are beautiful descriptors, not limiting characterizations? How can we make sure names and labels remain inclusive, not exclusive?
Because here’s the reality: labels can be mean and hurtful; labels can scream, see me; labels can push us further and further apart.
The question has no easy answers. Like so much (everything!), what starts in God’s hands gets messed up in ours.
But going back to God’s instructions to Adam, how can we make sure our labels, our names, honor the uniqueness of each one of us?
Coming Together as God’s People
How can we make sure our labels bring us together as God’s people in God’s family?
Yep! A bigger discussion with lots of answers, but I’d like to begin using Karen Rae and Fave Lifestyles as an example. Karen has created a community, one with a bigger label: Fave Lifestyles. But every day, she turns the spotlight on individual members. She honors the uniqueness of each one of us.
My dear friend Michol Phillips is an American Family agent. That’s her bigger label, but her day focuses on individual customer needs. Not only is that what’s required of her, but that’s who she is. One of the things I’ve most admired about Michol is how she not only shows up for her clients, but she shows up for our community (again, that bigger label) and its people (those she can name in a heartbeat). Her heart knows no bounds.
Names are important. When we know someone by name, we move past labels. When we know someone’s name, we move into a deeper level of intimacy.
God put us in relationship with Him and each other. And together with Him and each other, we can help make sure those labels are inclusive and honor the uniqueness of each one of us.
Things to consider:
- First, be intentional. As you navigate different situations in your day, how can you make sure people are seen and heard?
- Delight in who you are and whose you are. As God’s dear child, as part of God’s family, you show up differently and can make a difference—in big ways and in the smallest ways.
- Ask yourself what would Jesus do.
Remembering a recent meme, we don’t always have to agree; we just have to love. Love moves past those labels.
Heavenly Father, we see the great love you have lavished upon us as your dear children. Help us lavish that love on those around us.
Those Labels: Handle with Care (on YouTube)