It was another college party. I was the odd man out, the one who didn’t actually go to college at all, the one who didn’t know the songs playing from the iPod in the corner. I was the one sitting on the back of the couch, wondering what to do with my hands. I looked at other people, dancing and jingling their lanyards and car keys as they loudly conversed. Finally I spotted one of my friends and lifted my hand into a meager wave. He brought his conversation to my couch and introduced me. “This is my friend, Caroline.” He eagerly told his pal. “She’s a journalism major!”
The funny thing is, that wasn’t the first time someone had informed me that I was majoring in journalism. The fact that I wasn’t majoring in anything left my credentials so foggy that “facts” were often superimposed. People were told they would “love” me because I too was super into poetry. (Ummm, I am?) My reputation preceded me, but there was one problem…my reputation was inaccurate! (I’ve just recently had to break it to a good friend that what she heard about me wasn’t true…I’m not the biggest Jane Austen fan ever. Thankfully, she has forgiven me for this atrocity and we’re still friends.)
However, worse than other people accidentally spreading false information about me is when I realize I am accidentally spreading false information “about me.” My day took a tailspin and I wound up talking my little sister’s ear off a few weeks ago when I realized all of the ridiculous “rumors” I’ve started about myself. I seem to habitually label myself. Have you ever bought a book and had to spend twenty minutes meticulously trying to pick sticky price tags off the cover? That’s the problem with labels; they stick. Even after the information is no longer valid.
How many times have I loudly declared myself to be a night owl? And now, I rather enjoy mornings. How many times have I pegged myself as a scatterbrain when I’m really quite focused? How often have I referred to myself as an introvert, a strong-willed person, a loner, a romantic, a realist? I tell people I’m “super confrontational,” but it totally depends on my relationship with you. I tell folks I’m “really quiet in groups,” but not when we’re talking about something I’m passionate about! I tout my lack of regard for the status quo, but I can be quite the people-pleaser.
Because isn’t that the whole point of labels? To try to please and therefore be accepted by someone? I label myself to understand myself, sure. But to understand myself in relation to others. When I talk to God, I don’t use any of these labels. He doesn’t care if I’m a nerd or a geek, a INFJ or a ESTP, a hipster or a hippie, coffee or tea. You know why I don’t need labels with God? Because He never labeled me, He named me.
A name is something given to an individual, that’s why names are so special. Labels put us into categories, names put us in lights. We’re somebody, not one of many. We’re chosen, not pigeonholed.
I grew up in church, so I’ve heard a lot about “putting your identity in Christ.” I’ll confess that I didn’t put much thought into what that means until just recently. I always subconsciously thought of it like, “Don’t hate yourself, God thinks your beautiful,” but if we really put our whole identity in Christ, that’s something much more drastic than loving the skin we’re in.
To me, putting my identity in Christ means I stop trying to put my identity in anything else. I am proud of my family, but they aren’t my whole identity. If I didn’t have them, I’d still be Loved By God. I enjoy being a writer, but that’s not my “wellspring” of life. If I couldn’t write, I’d still be Loved By God. I am introverted, but that’s a small part of who God created me to be. If I suddenly woke up extroverted, I’d still be Loved By God. And not in a “blanket statement” way. Not in “for God so loved the world” way, but in a “God loves me, moment by moment, intimately, affectionately, personally” kind of way. Regardless of my labels.
It’s going to take some time to get all of these sticky labels off my skin. It will probably be a lifelong struggle to break the habit of pigeonholing myself. I will lose some opportunities for camaraderie when I’m tempted to wear a certain badge, but I think it will be worth it. I’d rather be known as myself, a Loved By God individual, than a combination of catchy phrases any day.
Reading through the Bible, I’m encouraged by how truly special, personal and powerful my identity in Jesus really is. In the beginning, it tells me I’m created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). Then that, before I was born, God knew me (Jeremiah 1:5) and that I was handmade, uniquely and with great attention to detail (Psalm 139:13-14). God doesn’t want my religious diligence, fancy prayers or big sacrifices, but I become a friend of God when I personally accept the invitation He made on the cross (Hosea 6:6, Galatians 2:16). Then I become a temple of His very spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16,) and He personally works to sanctify me (Philippians 1:6) and guide me (Romans 12:1-2).
I recently got out my nice pens and paper and made a new piece of art to hang above my desk. In big, swirling print I wrote, “It makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a freeman, a man or a woman, because in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, you are all one” (Galatians 3:27). And don’t you know that it’s true? It makes no difference whether you are from the South or the North, whether you went to public school or were homeschooled, whether you are thin or curvy, whether you are loud or quiet, whether you are black or white, whether you are into books or sports, whether you are dressy or casual, whether you are a beach person or a mountain person, whether you like sour gummy worms or chocolate eclair, because IN JESUS, WE ARE ONE.
How’s that for a label?