“Once you label me, you negate me.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
This week I spent some time with a group of women I didn’t know very well. Some I didn’t know at all, which meant that each and every introduction began with this initial question:
“So, what do you do?”
Whenever the interview turned my way, I usually answered the question with something like, “I’m a writer. I write for my own blog, for Her.meneutics, and for other Christian sites. I’m also a student.” Sometimes I would also mention the name and age of my son, or that my husband is also in school.
With each new conversation, with each new face, these were the categories I used to define myself.
After I gave this answer a few dozen times, it got me to thinking about how I label myself. What are the categories that I use to define myself, and how do they shape my mind and my heart? How do they shape the way I live?
And perhaps more significantly, what are the labels that I give to other people? And how do those labels shape the way I relate to them?
You see, it dawned on me that these labels that we give ourselves—wife, stay-at-home mom, single, divorced, writer, singer, student, homeschooler, marathon-runner, artist, introvert, extrovert, and more—these labels can enslave us.
The labels we give ourselves can become oppressive masters. My vision of who I think I am—or who I think I should be—becomes the lord that I serve. As a result, I shape my life according to the narrative dictated by that label. I strive to keep up the image that I want to present, or I retreat behind the label as an excuse.
Either way, the label is a master that I serve relentlessly instead of God.
However, the destructive power of labels doesn’t affect our hearts alone. It also affects our relationships.
How many times have you met a woman and sized her up? How many times have you met someone and thought you knew her, simply by the way she was dressed, or the way she spoke, or the way she lived? How many times have you assumed, “I wouldn’t get along with her,” without even knowing her name, her story, or her struggles?
I’ve made those assumptions many times, all because of labels. I might label a woman as vain, controlling, insecure, competitive, bitter, foolish, intimidating, or has-it-all-together—all because of the way she looked at me, or an article that she wrote, or the way she does her makeup and hair.
Based on that limited information, I think I know her. So I place her in a neat and tidy box, I label it, and I think I know her.
The problem is, no woman can be defined by a single label. Not even a thousand. Human beings are complex creatures who reflect the image of our complex God, which means that labels are no more sufficient for knowing people than they are for knowing God. I may know that God is Father, Son, Creator, Redeemer, Priest, and King, but that doesn’t mean I know Him.
Labels can even prevent us from knowing ourselves. Or being ourselves. Or embracing the selves that God created us to be.
One of the women I met this week told me an interesting story about her past. She explained that she was adopted, but she didn’t find out she was adopted until the age of 33. Can you believe that? 33?!
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I asked her how she handled the news. Surprisingly, she took it well. She shared,
“It was hard for my brother, but I didn’t really miss a beat. I knew who I was in Christ, and that was my identity. Being adopted didn’t change that.”
I’m still in awe of that answer! Truly, that is what it means to be rooted and grounded in Christ. She is unshakeable. Even when so many of her labels were stripped away—her heritage, her biological family, everything that she had come from—she was unshaken.
Her story reminded me that for all the destructive labels there are in the world, there is one label that sets us free: in Christ. We belong to Jesus, we are his, and that label is the only one with the power to anchor, heal, unite, and set free. It will not enslave us, it will not oppress us, and it will not divide us.
We are his, and that is the only label we need.
So I invite you to do away with these broken, man-made labels. Ask yourself, what are the labels you use for yourself, and how have they become a master that competes with the lordship of Christ?
Then ask yourself, how are you labeling other women, and how is it preventing you from reaching out to them, from loving them, from being their friend?
As for me, I earnestly want you to know that I am more than any label people assign me. I have been labeled in many ways—both good and bad—but I hope you will sit down and have a conversation with me if you really want to know me.
I hope you will sit down with the women in your own life and do the same.
I have a label that carries a lot of expectations, Sharon: Honorable. I hear it appended to my name when court starts every morning, it’s on every piece of mail dropped on my desk, I even hear it from people as I walk down the halls. Honorable is not how I see myself, though. Not that I go around acting dishonorably, but I’m like everyone else when it comes to fallenness.
Happily, as you say, my real identity is in Christ. I bear his name, and it’s a label I am proud to bear. And I do it without putting any expectations on myself, because everything that needs doing to bear his name he has already done. Wonderful grace.
I might as well be standing on my chair loudly cheering you on……so, so ,SO, true what you said. I know that God understands that we little humans need to understand things in context so it’s easier to “package” ourselves and others in boxes that help us make sense of things…BUT….. every one of us girls have the same standing in Christ if we are His and need to extend some mighty grace to one another!! Thank you for this post !!
So true. And I was so thankful for the time and all that we learned about each other beyond the labels.
I’ve been struggling with this exact thing for a year and a half. I became enslaved to labels I constantly resorted to upin realizing that it wasnt who I am anymore. now I try hard to use labels on myself. I need to do a better job a. extending this same courtesy to my sisters.