I asked Josh a few weeks back if he thought the teacher would ask him to write about his favorite part of summer when he returned to school. He responded, “I hope not. I don’t like to write about the summer. I wish teachers would ask about us. I wish they’d ask about what we like so they could get to know us.”
This stayed with me as I thought about how Josh simply has the desire to be known. I believe we all have this desire at some level. The need to be known and cared for. The need to connect and be loved. It’s interesting how at a young age, our interests become entwined as part of our identity. As we grow, we plunk ourselves into categories that seem to fit us. We look for people who have similar labels. Without realizing it, before long, we wear all sorts of labels among others with comparable labels.
Labels tell of who we are, where we come from and what we are about. One of the first labels we receive is the label of boy or girl. From there, it only expands. I’m a daughter, son, sister, brother, only child. I come from this city, that country, this coast. I’m a sports fan of this team. I love these type of books. I’m a Democrat; a Republican. I’m Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheist. I graduated from this high school, that community college, this university. I’m an athlete. A cook. A musician. I work for this company as a director, a manager, a leader, a technician. The list goes on. Labels define our experiences in simple terms. They also protect us and give us a name, a standard, a connecting point, a success rate.
As helpful as some labels are; others hold us back. Labels of self-loathing run through our minds in the dark of night plaguing our sleep. Labels worn under our clothes hold us back; we hope noone notices. These labels taunt us. I am worthless, incapable, a misfit. I am a reject, a failure, a loser. I am angry, tough, never enough. There are also those categories we find ourselves in that we never intended; yet unacceptable to others. These are the labels of shame we plaster on, afraid for others to catch a glimpse.
Labels have come from many places. For one, our culture and society have provoked us with labels. As we grow older and recognize our shortcomings and successes, we give ourselves labels. And, of course, those family and friends we’ve spent time with give us definition of ourselves. Over time, words have been fed to us and they become the core of what we believe about ourselves. Labels can be beneficial when they propel us forward. But, our labels become a hindrance when they keep us from growth. When we are attached to a label and can’t move from where we are; this may be an indicator to peel a label.
In my own life, I have lots of different labels I wear. Some labels describe me, my qualities and interests: daughter, youngest sister, wife, mom, artist, avid reader, native Buffalonian, Jesus lover, responsible, dedicated. Other labels silently nag me, holding me back: “good or bad” mom, overachiever, introvert, sensitive. The label I’ve carried longest is “creative”. This is what I’ve been told about myself all along. However, there have been times in my life when I haven’t been very creative at all. When I’ve shut the door to any artistic pursuit and thrown away the key. Who was I then? Was I still loved? Was I still of any worth? During those times, I paddled faster and worked harder to recreate a new identity for myself. A new label. But, often felt like, no, I wasn’t worth much. I fed into the label of worthlessness based on “doing”.
For many years, I believed the success rate of a job to be a great standard for what a person’s identity truly is. By this rating standard, this leaves me, again, totally “worthless” since I do not have a high paying job and a title attached to it. The title seems incredibly important. It’s as if the title of success sits atop the mighty hill and I cannot get to it. I reach, but my arms are not long enough.
These days, when people ask “What do you do?” I’m incredibly conflicted. When I’m feeling feisty, I’d like to respond, “What I do is not who I am. Does it matter if I stay at home as a mom or work as a mom? Does it matter if I have a doctorate or a high school education? My worth cannot be wrapped up in a two word label attached to my name on a business card.” But, then, that response may put a person off a bit.
Truly, though, when all is stripped away, what am I left with? This is where baptism comes in for me. Time and again, baptism wells up my eyes at church. Our church honors infant baptism. I hear our pastor, Rod, proclaim, “You are a child of God”. I hear the community agree to help come along as a friend and guide to the child as he/she grows. When I see the water sprinkled, my heart soars. God is reaching down to that child, saying, “Yes, you are my child. From the time my eyes were on your unformed body” (Psalm 139:16). This resonates. We are not the ones to claim God has chosen special people to be accepted. God chooses all. God says, “You are my beloved, my child and I choose you.” As Rachel Held Evans poignantly states in her book Searching For Sunday, “Baptism is a naming… Jesus did not begin to be loved at the moment of his baptism, nor did he cease to be loved when his baptism became a memory. Baptism simply named the reality of his existing and unending belovedness.” This is the gift of baptism; whether done as infant or adult; it’s our recognition that we belong to the family of God.
Do we hear God’s whisper of love in our ear? Do we hear the call that we are loved not because of labels we wear but because God loved us first? Can we allow ourselves to choose God back? With this thought, I can peel the labels away, one by one, stripping away hurtful labels which don’t define who I am and loosely hang on to labels of affirmation. First and foremost, I belong to God. And you do too.
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:9-11
Replace the words “my Son” with your name. Consider writing it down and placing in a relevant place to dwell on.
With a Friend:
What are the labels you wear on a day to day basis? What is a label you’d like to peel?
With a Child:
Tell me about a time you were chosen to play a game with friends.