Seen and known, we bear the label that shields the heart—the label that reveals the heart of God.

Becoming Fluent in the Language of Labeling

His drawing of a strawberry was lopsided, the printing was primitive, but the proud smile on my little guy’s face was as genuine as the ring of strawberry jam that circled his mouth.  He had made the jam and then had labored over the personalized labels that made each jar an announcement of his creative mastery of the jam-making process.

His jam.

His labels.

I still have one of them in his baby book to preserve the memory of making jam with him (and his three brothers that followed), because from the mashing of the berries to the last swipe of the red marker, I was helping my sons to build a shield of protection over their tender hearts with three strong words:

“I CAN DO”

Confidence based on competence is rugged and resilient, but, the truth is that the dents in that shield come early (and often) as we accept from the important people in our lives statements which do not line up with the true words that God says over us.

Slapping on a label may save me some time when I’m searching for jam in my pantry, but a label on a person means I never bother to see what’s inside. I fail to ponder the life ingredients, the unique qualities that have come together to create this particular soul—which sets me to wondering: What hasty words have I affixed to the real live people who populate my days?

“The lazy kid.”

“The over-reactor.”

“Fluffy-and-not-very-bright.”

“The friend who let me down.”

Living Down a Label

In a small town, it can be a challenge to live down a label, and I had accumulated quite a few by the time I graduated from high school and bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the country.

I wasn’t interested in hanging around to see if I could change peoples’ minds. Of course, at 17, I didn’t realize that the mind most in need of changing was my own, and failing that, new address labels seemed to be an easy substitute.

How much weight does one need to lose to stop being “The fat girl?”

How many sober life choices must one make to cancel out “Daughter of an alcoholic?”

Landing in LAX was like landing on the moon, because Northern Maine was no preparation for Southern California. And who knew that the air breathes thicker in the Deep South or that lightning storms in the Mid-West are a 360 degree light show? After a series of zip codes and a litany of new labels, the light finally dawned: the labels I had fled were tattooed on my brain–but only because I had said yes to them.  

Evelyn Underhill offers her explanation: “We are beset by nature, but we are cherished by grace.”

Family members with poor coping skills, an unfortunate and uncooperative metabolism, cars that break down, and cells that turn on us and suddenly the diagnosis is bleak and frightening: we are beset by nature. And yet the grace of God thrums away like a secret melody.

All the time I was running away from labels (and collecting more in the process, sticky things that they are) I was being cherished by the God Who makes plans and then carries them out in grace. This God Who places individuals in families and chooses eye colors and body shapes according to His sovereign wisdom.

Cherished By Grace

To all my whys and wonderings, His gentle answer has always been: “I AM. Know Me better. Become fluent in the language of My labeling.”

And sure enough, where I had read “inconvenient,” God revealed this label: Chosen.

Where I had slashed the words “drunk and wasted,” God revealed a broken man who was self-medicating—and always falling short. Then He probed still deeper, and we wondered together, “Is it possible that the ‘fat girl’ was also self-medicating in her own way?”

Here’s a label that doesn’t obscure, but instead reveals the beauty of all that lies within: CHERISHED.

Seen and known, we bear the label that shields the heart—the label that reveals the heart of God.


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This post appeared first at SheLoves Magazine.

89 thoughts on “Becoming Fluent in the Language of Labeling”

  1. Michele,
    Loved this vulnerable peak into the wonderful, chosen daughter of God that you are!! Unwanted labels stick to us like post-it notes we can’t seem to shake. So thankful that God labels us with concepts like “Chosen,” Cherished,” “Enough,” “Worthy,” “Beautiful,” “Mine.” Joining with you in ripping off the old, useless labels, and replacing them with the only labels that matter. Loved this!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  2. We forgot the only labels that matter are the ones our one true God gives us He knows us and loves us
    a HIS LABELS are all that matter He knows the truth and loves us unconditional and has a plan for all of us
    if only we are ready to listen and follow!!!

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  3. Ouch! Such a good post. Eye opening for this mom who tends to label. So much goodness here, I cant even. And I LOVED “Not an accident, but CHOSEN.” That will preach! I’m always so blessed when I visit your blog, Michele. Thank you!

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  4. Oh, this is so good: “the labels I had fled were tattooed on my brain–but only because I had said yes to them.”

    Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to those labels I have tattooed on my brain. God is so good and gracious to shift my thinking. But I need to believe Him!

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  5. “Cherished” is definitely the better label than some that I often attach to myself: “afraid,” “tired,” etc. (As an aside, my newest house policy (again!) is don’t put any leftovers in the freezer without a label! lol)

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  6. Michele, this is such a powerful post and may just be my favorite of yours yet. Although … I say that often to myself 🙂 We truly do think the labels others, and ourselves, slap on us are correct. This >>> “the labels I had fled were tattooed on my brain–but only because I had said yes to them.” May we refuse to accept any label other than the ones God has placed on us – Cherished. Daughter. Son. Loved. Redeemed. Forgiven. Precious. Mine,
    Friend, this post has surely reached in and touched my heart this morning, and pulled off a few labels. xo

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    1. So glad to hear that, Joanne. And relieved. This post cuts a bit closer to the bone than I’m used to going, but it’s out there for the awareness and growth of readers, so I’m trusting that it will fall upon the hearts that need it today.

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  7. I LOVE this! You are so right!! I would agree on this as a person, a former teacher, a counselor, etc. Labels are very destructive and it behooves each of us to not use them and to not focus on them if someone else uses them.❤️

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  8. Ugh, labels. I am not a fan. But God’s labeling? That’s a different story. I love these glimpses into the tender parts of your story, my friend. (And I also love that you taught your little boys not just to make jam, but to label the jars!) 🙂

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  9. Hello, I am not a fan of labeling or judging others. It is reminds me of bullying. Who am I to judge or label others.
    Making jam with your little ones, that is a great and happy memory. Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy weekend ahead.

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  10. How powerful a thought … Everyone seems to have some sort of label, dont they? I want mine to say “Forgiven” “Loved” “Daughter of the King” !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Praise God for the labels of love he presses upon each of us! A mind-picture is taking shape of a stack of pretty labels in an imaginary pocket, and pressing them (along with words of encouragement) upon those around me–labels that say Kind One, Sweet Smile, Always Cheerful, Thoughtful Listener, etc. What a delight to affirm the beauty within others! Thank you for another inspiring post, Michele.

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  12. Wow. What a poignant post for me today. As a teacher I deal with labels all of the time. Student disabilities, types of parents, teachers, etc….the list could go on forever. We don’t need any of them. My own life has been full of labels and none of them have I wanted. Others place them as judgement, I think, but they need to be removed. We all need to be the people we are meant to be. Thank you for this post today and for linking it up.

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  13. Labels can be both a help and a hindrance. Positive labels, loved, cherished, unique, beautiful can really empower someone, but just one negative label has the power to destroy and like a magnet attract yet more negative labels. Thank you so much for posting such a thought provoking and wise post x

    #ThatFridayLinky

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  14. Those labels…they are such a pesky tool of the enemy. I’m so sorry you walked that road, too, but praise God for His love. I’ve had my own labels as well. And honestly, it wasn’t until my 40’s that God helped revel and heal those. But goodness! When He did….it was more than good. I love reading your words, Michele. They’re always deep and thoughtful.

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  15. This is fantastic! As a first grade teacher in a Christian school, it empowers me to fill my kid’s heads with a positive label. Thank you! #trafficjam

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  16. I am disabled since suffering a massive stroke, my husband referred to me recently as a stroke victim ( he didn’t mean it in a nasty way) but I was quick to respond with I am a stroke survivor #,globalblogging@_karendennis

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  17. This is a great post. As a parent, I try very hard not to label the kids, but it’s tougher than I ever would have thought before having kids. It’s so easy to react to a situation and say something that they then really remember and hold onto.

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  18. If we could all get ahold of this :

    ‘The labels I had fled were tattooed on my brain–but only because I had said yes to them.’

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  19. I remember as a teen my mother liked to label me and oh how I hated it, Michele! So this post really speaks to me and all those weary souls out there that feel misunderstood and not really seen. Love this! Pinning and tweeting, my friend! Have a great week!

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  20. I remember reading this before, but I’m blessed by it again. Those labels can be sticky! It’s so important to learn to accept the labels God places on us and to dismiss the less-helpful ones stuck on by others.

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  21. This is beautiful and thought-provoking. You have me sitting here, thinking about some of the labels I’ve attempted to tear off and the ones I’ve applied myself. What an encouraging reminder that it is by knowing God more that we really come to know ourselves as He sees us. Oh, how precious is His grace and love toward us!

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  22. A beautiful post from you, Michele that did make me ponder on how we fix labels on the people we live with and especially our children and what is worse we get so fixated by those words that we fail to see the person for who he/she truly is! A great reminder to start with, as I begin my work week. Happy rest of the week to you, Michele.

    Warm regards,
    Esha

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  23. It’s so hard to know what words we say will become someone’s labels hence the reason it is so important to think before we speak. I know that I carry around labels from my childhood and teen years that I am still trying to remove. I love that we are cherished and loved by God – the most important person to label us.

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  24. Wow! I was hanging on your every word here! You have a true gift for writing. Thank you for sharing in such a poignant, humble way. I loved the word picture of the labels on the jam and what’s inside and how we tend to label people.

    I leave here convicted and encouraged.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  25. Oh so true! We are so quick to label in our society and don’t often stop to think about how those labels stick and even change the course of our lives. LOVE this! Thanks for linking up with us at Encouraging Hearts and Home. This post was the most viewed this week and will be featured on Thursday.

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  26. Beautiful, Michele! The old I get the more conscious I become of labels I’ve given myself and labels I’ve applied to other people. When I see people through God’s lens of ‘Cherished’ it makes it easier!

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  27. Michele, you are such a brilliant writer with so much wisdom to share. Labels really are sticky things, aren’t they? And they can be so harsh whether we are placing them on others, others are placing them on us, or we are placing them on ourselves. We find ourselves fighting our way out of these labels so they don’t own us. I have become hyper aware in the field of mental health to not use diagnoses as labels…for example, I had doctors tell me for years, “You ARE bipolar and therefore you will never function properly in life.” I became that label until one day I decided to break free and accept the diagnosis of “I HAVE bipolar. I am NOT bipolar.” Rather I am chosen with grace! Thank you for this insightful post as always.

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  28. Labels are useful but they are only helpful if we acknowldge they don’t tell the complete picture: a vegetable patch might have those plants listed but who knows what rogue seeds have also been planted. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

    Like

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