[photo credit: lucilight at creativeworshipsnss.blogspot.com]
When we teach babies to talk, we start—of course—by naming things. We point a purposeful finger at the intended object, and we enunciate clearly and deliberately—our eyes wide, our faces expectant.
Then, when our tiny student responds with a corresponding utterance, we clap and cheer and offer all manner of praise. The label has been learned!
Labels and Lies
We can all agree, I think, that we need labels to talk about our world and our experience. Labels are a natural part of the communication process and a fundamental way in which we use language. Labels—in and of themselves—are helpful, and even essential.
But we also wear labels as human beings. We take them on. We own them. We walk around with them clinging to our chest, these labels that—rightly or wrongly—help define our identity in some simple, and some profound, ways.
We wear labels based on our primary occupation. It’s often the first thing we ask each other when we meet. What do you do? And we answer, I’m a nurse. I’m an accountant. I’m a homemaker. I’m a barista. I’m a professor. I’m a college student. I’m a vet. These labels may be a source of pride or frustration for us—depending on how we feel about our occupation on any given day.
We wear labels based on our hobbies. I’m a knitter, a runner, a surfer, a cook.
We wear labels based on our relationships to other people. I am a sibling, a parent, a spouse. I am single or widowed or divorced. I am a friend.
We may wear labels based on personal qualities. Maybe we label ourselves with characteristics we have carefully cultivated. I’m frugal, creative, intelligent, strong.
Or perhaps our weaknesses define who we are and keep us defeated. I am controlling. I am overweight. I am angry. I am weak.
Sometimes we wear labels that have been placed on us by other people. Maybe we even carry labels from childhood that we just can’t seem to shake. I am a learning disability, a bother, a misfit, a failure, always the butt of the joke.
Maybe we wear labels related to our race or our ethnicity. Or maybe our gender label gives us cause for concern.
Maybe we wear labels that come as the result of life in this fallen world. I am infertile. I am an addict. I am a victim of abuse.
I am. I am. I am.
We can all fill in that blank (I am ________) in so many ways. What labels do you wear? Are they helpful or harmful? How do you feel about them?
Remember, though, that labels as a function of language are necessary. Acknowledging and processing our painful labels can even be a healing exercise. When labels become damaging, even downright devastating, is when they are accompanied by lies—lies that we believe.
The Samaritan Woman
In John chapter 4, Jesus sits by a Samaritan well and speaks to an unsuspecting woman. He meets her right in the middle of her everyday life and asks her for a drink.
Her immediate and reflexive response is to lead with her label. “I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
Certainly, both of those realities—her gender and her nationality—put her at a disadvantage in her culture. But those labels could only have real power over her if she believed the lies attached to them, if she believed the lie that she was not of value, that she was unworthy, that when He talked with her, Jesus was wasting His time.
Maybe those are the same lies that you also believe. I am not worthy. I am not valuable. I am a waste of time.
Or maybe your labels come with other lies.
We have all felt constrained by certain labels at times—when our identity seems to be all wrapped up in the things that we do or the people in our life or the particular circumstances that have come our way. We have also all been tempted to believe certain lies. Satan, the father of lies, works hard to press these into our conscience. So it’s important for each of us to consider what labels and lies might be ours, but then what?
The Antidote: Truth and Grace
When presented with the Samaritan woman’s labels and lies, Jesus patiently pursues her with truth and with grace.
In fact, He doesn’t even address her label directly. He doesn’t talk to her about the fact that she is a Samaritan woman—what that means and how she should navigate that reality. Her gender and cultural label don’t take center stage with Him. Rather, in John 4:10 He says to her: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,” you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
When the Samaritan woman presents concerns about her identity, Jesus counters with the truth about His identity. It doesn’t matter so much who she is in the eyes of the world. What matters is who He is—in light of eternity. We see in His response such a wonderful combination of truth and grace.
He wants her to know the truth. “If you knew…”
And He wants her to receive the grace. “…the gift of God…”
May that same knowledge (of who Jesus is) and that same grace (the precious gift of God) wipe away the labels and dispel the lies that threaten to define our own lives.
This is just a snippet of the teaching from my book,
It is also a part of the Women’s Retreat Series by the same name.
I’d love to talk with you about how I might bring these messages of Jesus’ love to your group!