Who labels you?
That’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve struggled with labels most of my life, and now, as my daughter gets nearer to middle school, I’ve been thinking a lot about the labels we wear as people.
In the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses some interesting language to describe people who are blessed: people at the end of their ropes, people who’ve lost what’s dear to them, people who are content with themselves, people who are hungry for God, people who care, people who live with integrity, people who cooperate instead of fight, people who are persecuted for their beliefs, people who are verbally abused.
Jesus takes the slurs and insults common in his day and turns them into a list of people who are actually near and dear to God. He takes the putdowns and code words of the elitists, the know-it-alls, the pundits and religious experts, and turns them inside out.
He tells the “working class” that they’re high society with God. He tells the “broke” that they’re rich in God’s world. He tells the “doormats”, the “hopeless”, the “buzzkillers”, the “worthless”, and countless others that the labels others put on them aren’t what they seem. In God’s eyes, it’s the people on the edges who receive His generous grace.
I love the fact that Jesus takes the easy categories of cultural superiority and turns them. In our day and age, name calling has become a high sport. Everyone from our news pundits to our presidential candidates engages in condescending shorthand to try and assign people into broad categories and dismiss them because of it.
But those big voices aren’t alone. There are a million voices in the world that will try to label you. Sure, the easiest to spot are the ones in the media, but the most impactful are the ones that belong to your friends and family.
People see others through their perspective of the world, so if the perspective is healthy, you get a healthy label. If it’s unhealthy, you get an unhealthy label.
Here is the truth of what Jesus was saying: You are not the labels others give you. You are the labels you choose to accept. Most of us have been conditioned to just take whatever comes our way, but God has something else in mind entirely. Here is what God calls you: beloved, friend, child, conqueror. You are blessed, chosen, highly favored, and created. The labels that God would have you choose are labels that breathe life; they acknowledge your need for God, but accentuate the fact He has chosen to love you first.
While others may call you all sorts of names – or tell you that God Himself calls you all sorts of names – nothing can change the fact that God loves you and wants to see you live a life that is overflowing with His glory and presence.
Until you and I understand who we really are according to God and embrace it as true, we will forever be adrift in life. When we wear labels that diminish us, we chain ourselves to the limits of those words. And it’s not just negative or hurtful labels that do us harm; even if other people label us something positive, if that label isn’t true to who God made us to be, that label becomes a chain on our soul.
We can’t escape labels. They are a way of life. But as Jesus showed us, it is possible to turn those labels out, to reverse them and see the truth about who we really are. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
No matter what labels others would place on you, you have the power to choose which ones you will accept. You have the choice of who you allow to define you. It can be other people, or it can be the Creator who made you.
It’s up to you whose labels you’ll wear.