Been Thinking About Labels

Fair warning for everybody – when it’s going to be a serious day around here, the title will always include something that I’ve been thinking about…

There is this wonderful lady I know who made me wildly happy by agreeing to be my mentor, a few months ago.

She blesses my life, heaps love and encouragement on me, reminds me of what is truly important and worth striving for, and teaches me so much that I now spend a good portion of my life feeling challenged, uncomfortable, and humbled.

Learning is hard! But very good.

Anyway, she has this thing about labels. She’s made me realize how often people will make statements about themselves that are negative, and verbally strengthen things in their lives.

Stuff like, “I’m just not a patient person.” Or “I tend to be a perfectionist.”

That second one was mine. I was talking on the phone with her one day, and called myself a perfectionist. She reminded me gently, once again, that I had labelled myself.

So why are labels harmful?

Well, let’s say that I struggle with being patient. If I keep saying over and over again that I’m not a patient person, I’ll really have hammered it into my head that I’m not a patient person. And then, when I’m in a situation where patience is not the easiest thing to produce in the heat of the moment, I’ll already be thinking, “I’m not a patient person!” And I won’t try my absolute hardest to rely on the Holy Spirit to muster up just a little bit of patience from somewhere.

Which is kind of dumb when you think about it, because one of the fruit of the Spirit is patience. If I have the Holy Spirit in me, and if I am trying to live my life for Jesus every single day, then there should be the fruit of patience growing somewhere in some small corner. It needs a little more sun and a little more love, but logically, it should be there, waiting to be discovered.

But I won’t find it if I just say, “I’m not a patient person”, and use that as an excuse, as a “life pass” for being impatient.

This is a challenging one for me to think about, because I like to talk a lot. And even the Bible says that people who talk a lot have a higher chance of saying something foolish. I’m starting to learn about the power of words, and what happens when I toss them around carelessly.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)

So I’m thinking about it more and more all the time. I’m starting to notice, not only when I do it, but when other people do it, too.

Poor Ben had no idea what was coming…

One night when we were talking, Ben was sharing some thoughts on a difficult situation that he needed to deal with, but was struggling to do so.

And he said, “I’m just not a confrontational type of person!”

And something suddenly clicked in my head. Ben has often said this about himself, and has often struggled with being direct enough in difficult situations. He wants to change, but he’s “just not a confrontational type of person!”

Suddenly I got mad. Not at Ben – but at the lies that he’s believed for so long. Without either of us realizing it, Ben’s weakness was labeled over and over again.

So I burst out with something that went kind of like this:

“You are labeling yourself!! I do NOT believe that you are a non-confrontational type of person! I believe that you are a person of honesty and integrity, and that you live in obedience to God. If He is laying it on your heart to address a situation, I believe that you will do so because you seek to do His will, to glorify Him in all that you do, and to have relationships with others that are open, honest, and pleasing to Him!!”

(I got a little carried away. But I believe it’s all true!)

And he kind of blinked and lay there quietly for a little while.

Then he said very cautiously, “Alright, well…I need prayer for…a situation…in which I am feeling…uncomfortable…about talking to someone…about some things which…I find…difficult…to share….” And then he peeked over at me to check if this was a safe statement to make, or if I would burst forth again.

I found his prayer request to be acceptable.

But it’s not like I’m the label police or anything. I’m still trying to figure this thing out myself. Still trying to choose words that bring truth and life, instead of claiming junk that I don’t actually want in my life.

I’m just thinking that if I’m going to eat fruit, I would like it to be the life-giving kind.