Every time I buy a photo frame or item with a price tag stuck to it, I could pretty much dissolve in tears of relief when the tag comes off in one sweet piece instead of ripping into about seventeen fragments that each split into two more and the whole removal endeavor takes about twenty minutes and a total loss of sense of humor.
The victorious feeling of impending instant gratification is soon replaced by a much more subdued reality – the tag may have come off nicely, but now there is a streak of gummy, glue-laden mess left underneath that only an act of God can remove (well, that or sometimes nail polish remover, but you get my point). What began as a feeling of relief at the removal of a label soon became distress as the mess that label left behind.
Isn’t this what happens to us when we put labels on ourselves and others? Sure, identifying labels can help us make sense of the world and find our “tribes”, as it were. When someone asks who you are, how do you answer? You probably answer by saying one or more of these: Christian; wife; sister; daughter; mother; professional; artist; and more.
But what about the labels we stick on ourselves and others that restrict, minimize, and downplay who we are? Labels such as: Ugly; Obnoxious; Stupid; Fat; Lazy; Annoying; Worthless; Exhausting; Bad. If we’re honest, most of us have either said those things about ourselves or at least thought (if not outright said) things like that about other people. I have; I’m not proud of it, but I have – both about me and people around me, too. I’ve gone crazy with the label-maker in my own life at times, and it has rarely resulted in anything positive or hopeful. I used to think that as long as my thoughts stayed firmly locked in my head, labels didn’t do much damage, but I’ve noticed that it colors every facet of how I live my life if I am not aware of them and their potential damage.
Even the words that don’t spill out of our mouths still exist in our heads, so they still count, and they can still determine how we act; who we reach out to; and how we live our lives. We live in a world of hurting people – and a big part of it is these labels that we learn to stick everywhere – by the media; by our growing up influences; by our friends; and by our own sinful nature. Something that can initially feel as insignificant as gum on our shoe (annoying, but not that big a deal) can easily become gum on our very soul – difficult to remove; stops us in our tracks; and slows down our progress in life.
I also know I’ve been stuck with these labels by other people, too, and it hurts. In fact, it hurts more when someone else labels me as something negative than when I say those things about myself. Why? Because it almost serves as validation that every bad thing I’ve thought about myself must indeed be true if someone else sees it, too. It may be more dangerous to think so little of ourselves than when other people do (because what we think about and focus on is how we will approach our lives, and we can only improve and control what’s in our own heads and hearts), I also think it is more painful to receive that negative feedback from external sources.
And even when we’ve lived enough to call out the lie in those labels and even when we have replaced those lies with what He says about us, there is still that little stubborn bit of sticky residue that can take years of furious soul-scrubbing to rub off…it’s that coy little whisper that maybe that lie IS true. Maybe you really ARE those things after all. Maybe you should come up with a new label that takes the truth of the old label and cuts deeper.
Friends, this is where the enemy lives and thrives. Flawed and hurting people may label you in moments of pain (that often have nothing to even do with you), but even after all your hard work in removing those labels and moving forward in life comes the hardest work of all: Recognizing that syrupy bit of residue that threatens your happiness and sense of self-worth as a lie from Satan.
The Bible tells us that because of our faith, we are God’s children (Gal. 3:26) and our old self is gone – we are brand new (2 Cor. 5:17); He forgives us of any and ALL past mistakes (1 John 1:9), and He even calls us His own “handiwork” (Eph. 2:10)!
So, the next time you feel that old sticky, persistent residue of old labels trying to catch your attention and steal your happy, focus on calling out these lies. Tell the enemy WHOSE you are – you are a child of God with a new life, and the only labels that ring true to your heart are the ones straight from Him, handed down through time in your Bible. In fact, I recommend making a list (or you can always Google one, but I find that discovering God’s love for you for yourself is far more powerful) and keeping it close – especially in times of stress. It’s far more effective than even nail polish remover at getting rid of those sticky lies!