Labels – better on fashion than on people, no? :-)

How do we instinctively respond when we see or meet an extraordinarily distinctive or unusual-looking person for the first time?

Do we make assumptions about them? About who they are…about their intellect…about what kind of character they must possess…about what kind of life they must lead…then, based on our frame of reference, history, experiences, prejudices etc – we might take those assumptions and put two and two together. And we take the sum of that. And in a matter of seconds after seeing or meeting them, we (often subconsciously) assign a label.

Such is the power of labels. And the startling efficiency of our brains. We put two and two together, and sometimes we get five. Or sometimes we get three. Sometimes we get four. It’s pretty cool when we get four.

Kind of understandable, that we do that.   It’s human nature to try to make sense of people and things, to categorise and catalog, in order to efficiently assess, judge and respond accordingly.

We have a lot of inputs coming in, all day and every day. All the incoming on our smartphones alone is enough to put us at risk of spontaneous combustion from mental overstimulation, without having to take on actual real life human interactions as well.

So the more efficiently we can assess somebody as ‘my people’ or ‘not my people’, the better.

So we take all the external cues we can to make that assessment quickly and move on. We look at someone’s surface characteristics…how they look, how they dress, how they speak, what they do, what they say…and our brains deem that sufficient input with which to process, assess and then engage or dismiss.

We all label other people, without even realising it most of the time. I do it too. Being human and all.

But deep down, we must know that isn’t always the full story, right? To label and make judgments about people based on limited surface data?

We all know, that when we label others and dismiss them without knowing them properly, we could be missing an incredible opportunity to know an amazing person, right?

Those people who might seem at first to be ‘not my people’ to us. But who would bring such richness, such perspective, such dimension to our lives. If we could just see past the label.

It’s like me and my head booker. ‘Christian’ me. ‘Gay’ him. You can’t get much more labeled than that. Like, whatever. Two real people with real lives having real conversations about real stuff.

In the final analysis, labels mean nothing.

Last year I learned an object lesson on the meaninglessness of labels when God brought across my path a man who did not – in my then-religious ‘Good Christian Girl’ view – fit the label ‘Christian’…a man who was, ‘on paper’, with his history and chosen lifestyle up to that time, not at all my idea of someone who I would be drawn to, let alone love.

That cut both ways – ‘on paper’, I was not at all his idea of someone who he would be drawn to, let alone love, either. I know this. Because he said so. He was pretty honest about stuff.   He taught me a lot about the value, and the fearsome beauty, of honesty. Those lessons continue to challenge me to this day.

So anyway there I am with my uptight yet awesomely efficient Christian Girl labelling process going on, when faced with this man. And then God says to me, but can you see my sweetheart, can you see what I see? Can you see this man’s heart? Can you see how true his heart is? Can you see how much truer it is, than the hearts of so many other men who claim My Name?

Don’t just see the surface, as man sees, My dear child. See the heart, as I see. This man has the purest of hearts. Do you know how precious that is to Me, my darling girl? Do you know how precious he is to Me? He’s as precious to Me as you are.

Labels. God lovingly but firmly calling me out on my small-minded uptight labeling and saying hold on a minute darling girl, look deeper. Labels. Totally nailed by God.

Can you say challenge me much, Daddy God?! Sheesh. Talk about a crash-course in Losing My Religion. And labels. And seeing with God’s eyes.

Because I reckon God thinks labels suck too, when people – who He has so lovingly created in unique and beautiful and intricate detail – aren’t seen for who they truly are…or don’t let themselves be seen for who they truly are (guilty as charged) – and instead get labeled.

God says that He looks upon the heart, even though people might look upon the outward appearance.   He’s not kidding. Even now, after said object lesson, I don’t think I fully comprehend yet how very much He is not kidding.

Even that label, ‘Christian’…after all I’ve learned in the last year…and after decades of exposure to the imperfect yet wondrous humanity of us all, myself included…it’s a totally meaningless label. At best, it’s a lifestyle label. It’s not a state of heart. It doesn’t matter to me anymore what someone calls themselves or how many churchy things they do or where they volunteer or blah blah blah blah…

I really don’t believe that God categorises people, and their hearts, the way religion does. I don’t believe God categorises people at all. God loves uniqueness, growth, change, spontaneity, fun, wholeness. God loves it when people want to grow into wholeness, into the life they were born for. God loves it when people want to go on a journey to their best life. He’s never wanted any less for any of us.

And although the church is filled with people exactly like that, how many others alongside them are sitting in church pews the world over, Sunday after Sunday, comfortable in their Christian lifestyles but not actually growing anywhere? How many people who claim the name ‘Christian’ are not actually on a journey to more and more of the life God has for them?

Just because we’ve ‘said the prayer’ and are ‘living the lifestyle’ and are going to all the ‘right’ Christian conferences etc, surely that doesn’t mean we hunker down there, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, Christmas play after Christmas play, for the rest of our comfortable-yet-insular-and-ultimately-inconsequential religiously-lived short-changed lives?

And although yes out in the big wide world there are people who don’t give their inner life much thought, how many others alongside them are out there who don’t claim the name ‘Christian’ for various reasons, but they have pure and sincere searching hearts that would put some of the church to shame?

They are looking for the True, and the Real, they are on a journey. When God sees that, how could that not be precious to Him? How could He not respond to that? When a human heart is searching for Him, truly searching for Him and won’t settle for less, He will be found. He wants to be found.

God says that we will find Him when we look for Him with all our hearts. It’s true. That’s how I found Him. That’s how I find Him every day. With all of my heart. Some days, some parts of my heart don’t find Him because maybe I shut those parts down for protection. Those days suck. To put it mildly.

God loves a heart that wants Him. Even when that heart doesn’t know that it’s Him that it wants. God doesn’t look at our history, or our lifestyle, or how many people we’ve shagged in the last few days/weeks/months or whether we did a bible reading this morning. He looks at our heart. Our desire to grow somewhere. God loves a heart that wants to grow somewhere. Because that is a heart that He has a hope of having a real, life-filled, love-filled, heart connection with.

So labels. They have their place. On clothes and shoes and handbags, mostly. Not so much on people.

Here’s to a world with less people-labeling and more I See You. And here’s to eating my own dog food, so to speak. #babysteps 🙂

3 thoughts on “Labels – better on fashion than on people, no? :-)

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