Honest confession: I’ve spent a good majority of my life being obsessed with labels.
Labels, aka man-made attempts to brand and identify what something is or is not.
Have you ever been labeled with something?
Maybe, like me, you haven’t always liked the labels put on you.
We’ve all been there. Just today, my seven year-old daughter came home with one, as she told me about a girl who’s not nice at recess, “she told me I’m too slow.”
Now, I hope my baby throws that label off and stomps it away like it’s a piece of garbage, but it’s hard, right?
If you’re anything like me, you might have a much harder time remembering the good things said about you, and a much easier time of remembering all the negative labels thrown your way.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been tempted to buy labels you actually like and somehow want attached to your identity.
When I was in my early 20s, I discovered the power of buying labels when I bought my first pair of designer jeans. At the time, I was single, working in downtown Seattle, living in my own apartment in a trendy urban neighborhood and happy to enjoy myself some good old-fashioned consumerism.
I quickly became a drooling window-shopper and sometimes curator for all labels I thought were cool: Sevens For All ManKind. Urban Outfitters. Anthropologie. Ann Taylor. White House Black Market. Manolo Blahniks, and Tiffanys (okay, I couldn’t really afford Manolo shoes or Tiffany jewelry but I admired their brands from afar).
I liked buying expensive things. I especially liked wearing the emotional labels I attached to them.
Sevens is about premium comfort. Therefore, I felt extra special when I wore them.
Urban Outfitters was for cool city folks. Therefore, I felt like a confident local when I put the label on.
Anthropologie was for bohemian artists, maybe people who drink tea, read Jane Austen and are married to rich lawyers who fund their shopping endeavors. I still needed to find my rich man and couldn’t afford much there but yes! Sign me up for that label!
Ann Taylor and White House Black Market said I took my office career seriously. I didn’t. But my outfits from there said I did.
Manolo Blahnik’s label shouted Carrie Bradshaw aka New York City hopeless romantic writer. I had to have some. I bought my like-new ones from e-bay because they were the only ones I could afford.
I wanted to live a rich, romantic existence and thought if Tiffany’s came into my life, Audrey Hepburn would practically be my best friend. Eventually my obsession was settled by a keychain, a couple silver rings and some empty blue boxes.
It’s easy to look back at that time in my life with judgment and frustration for the girl who had to have those things. But I don’t judge her and I hope you don’t either. That girl was confused and was caught up in what the world says. And if I’m being honest, there are days I still feel that confusion over labels.
There was a time in my life, I swore I would NEVER, not EVER, NEVER- NOT IN A MILLION YEARS own a mini van. You know what I thought a mini van label says? It says soccer mom. It says hot mess. It says messy bun and yoga pants. It says too many kids.
We have a mini van. It’s dirty and smells like rancid smoothies half the time. I warn the cool teenagers who come and go that if they complain they have to help clean it. Nobody complains anymore.
There was a time in my life, I really wanted a pair of UGG boots. I kept asking my husband for them at Christmastime. About ten years ago, my mom, my sister and my sister-in-law all received pairs. I was a little peeved at Brian. C’mon sweet man, just buy the expensive boots for your wife. They say comfort, ease, and premium. Basically, they’re the emotional equivalent of Sevens For All ManKind.
I never got the UGGs.
So last year, my mom’s 10 year-old UGGs were falling apart and she went to Costco. She called me so excited. “Costco is selling UGGs for super cheap! Get over there before they’re sold out!”
They weren’t real UGGs.
The Kirkland Signature brand at Costco were a quarter of the price of real UGGs. They were made in Australia. They were made from sheepskin. They had the look and feel of real UGGs. They were everything but the label.
I’d like to say the label didn’t matter to me. But it sure did.
So I bought my pair of $30 fake UGGs and I went back to my mom’s house and as she prepared to throw her old real UGGs in the trash, I came up with an idea. Fake UGGs with glued on real labels. I’m serious.
I wore them like that all last winter until the labels started to peel off the backs. So eventually, I removed the labels. Now the UGGs just provide comfort and ease, and I wear them because I love how cozy they feel. I love those boots! But the label with its connotations of value and luxury has been replaced with stains left from peeling the labels off.
When I wear my fake UGGs now, I am humbled with a visual reminder that human attempts to define me leave a stain.
You see, man-made labels are worthless. They have no eternal value.
So why do we care so much about them?
I believe we care about labels because sometimes we become consumed with what other people think. In the story of The Garden of Eden. Eve and Adam believed a lie. They were just doing their thing, happy and content in a lush garden that God had given them to enjoy with him and their identities were totally in him. Then sin entered the world when they stopped believing what God had said. Adam and Eve hid from God. And God’s question for them started with, “Who told you…?”
Who told you? Who told me? Who tells us who we are when we wear our labels?
The world told me. And then I told myself.
I believed that if someone said I was something, I was something. I believed if someone said I was too -fill in the blank- I was too -fill in the blank. I believed if I bought a pair of fancy jeans, I would be more fancy. I believed if I owned a mini-van I would be less-than.
I believed a bunch of lies.
You see, God came looking for Adam and Eve. He loved them even in their brokenness and he loves us. And no matter how many emotional labels we’re wearing that have nothing to do with truth, whether they have something to do with materialism or media or peers… Wherever the labels come from that don’t come from him, he still meets us there and offers us something new. In Jesus Christ, we are offered the gift of the only label that will ever matter.
The genuine boots I wear with the stains on the heels are just as comfortable and warm as the day I bought them. The labels added nothing but stains and comparison.
I, too, can choose to believe that who I am has nothing to do with the worldy labels put on me. And you have the choice to believe who you are has nothing to do with the worldly labels put on you.
I don’t care if you’ve been told you’re a loser your whole life. It’s a lie. I don’t care if you’ve bought a huge walk-in closet-full of designer clothing hoping you’d become what those labels sell. It’s a lie. I don’t care if you’ve believed you’re worthless, ugly, rejected, not-enough or unloveable.
It’s not truth.
And no amount of labels the world sells will ever satisfy a deep desire to belong and be loved unconditionally.
NOTHING compares to the only label that really matters: “Beloved Child of God.”
That’s who you are.
That’s his label for you and one worth wearing.
You aren’t the crappy things someone has said about you. You’re not the ugly fight you shared with your mother. You’re not the premium denim label that doesn’t satisfy. You’re not the sum of all the boys you’ve loved before or your Instagram follower numbers. You’re none of that.
You are who he says you are.
And girl, that is enough.
Every weekday, as my kids exit the filthy minivan I swore we’d never own, I ask them, “Who are you?”
They answer in unison, “Children of God.”
I ask them, “Who loves you?”
They list a lot of people. But it’s always centered on one, “God.”
And I say a variation of this- and I say it to you, dear reader, right now: “Will anything you encounter today change that?”
Will any label the world throws or sells make any difference in the love and identity you have in Christ?
Not one bit.
And if you love wearing fancy jeans or carrying designer purses around- as my sweet friend Destini would say, you do you, boo boo. I still love premium denim jeans and if Brian ever found a good deal on UGGs, that would be awesome. Brian- if you’re reading this, the gray knit ones are super cute.
But just remember, no matter what temporary label you wear or don’t wear, that label does not define you. If something you’re wearing brings value, life or purpose in your life than you’ve bought into what someone besides God has told you. Put him first. Listen to what he has to say about you. Believe him. And the other labels? Watch them start to peel off.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” ~ 1 John 3:1