I’ve been peeling off a lot of labels lately… Some come off easily as soon as I see them. Some don’t want to budge and leave a sticky residue that I know will take some more conscious effort to fully remove. Some I didn’t even know where there until I removed one and found another one right beneath it, as if one was built on another. Some have felt so part of me for so long that I feel naked without them – like, I don’t even know what life is supposed to look like now that the label is gone…
What is a “label”? I call them labels in this season I’m in but you could also call them core beliefs, heart beliefs, or identity – it’s all tied to identity. Or more often than not it seems (at least for me), false identity.
Your label is more than what you do, how you act, and what your personality or preferences are. It’s the why behind those things. Your labels are the deep core beliefs of who you truly believe you are. It’s that title you have adopted that deviates from your original design.
Maybe you know it’s there – it’s that thing about yourself you’re sure to slip in during your first conversation with someone you’ve just met. Or maybe it’s something you carry inside, hidden, but it still determines how you live life each day. Your label may not be something you think about at all but if you look at your pattern of actions and reactions it probably won’t take long to find out what is written on yours.
A handful of my labels over the years have looked something like this. In mind, Kristin has been:
Or, Kristin has had:
an incurable disease,
When I had Lyme disease, there was a whole community of people who called themselves “Lymies”. Cute, huh? But it was an awful group to be in. All the focus was on what was wrong and it was almost like there was a competition sometimes to see who had it worse. At first it felt good to belong, but immediately after it started to suck the life out of me. But I thought this was where I belonged because it was the label I’d been given… “Chronic neurological Lyme disease. It can be managed, but not cured.” There was a tug of war inside me because this is who I am now… right? But it always felt so wrong (because it’s not who God created me to be!). I remember in the Lyme community, there was another death reported one morning and I thought, “I don’t belong here.” I may have Lyme disease but I am not Lyme disease and it will not have me. I left the groups immediately and stopped even researching anything Lyme related unless absolutely necessary. But I still wore the label. Even though I didn’t talk about it or research it much, I still filtered everything through the lens of “I have Lyme.” It still determined what I could or couldn’t do, and it still loomed over me. But thank God that even back then I realized it wasn’t who I wanted to be. Being in that community was like taking an observer role and realizing I didn’t like the play I was in. I didn’t like it, and yet I felt stuck in it, playing a part I didn’t want to play. I didn’t know then that I had a choice.
We can’t choose what happens to us but we can choose what happens in us and a label is not a physical condition or an emotional response – it’s what you believe about you.
For me, some things happened as a child that created those first few labels. As a child, you don’t really know how to categorize things said about you or things that happen to you, so your brain files them somewhere for you and in my humble opinion, this is often the root of a lot of deep-seated core beliefs. You are unaware they even exist yet go through life filtering everything that happens through them. Your experiences confirm it, people confirm it, and everything that happens is held up to the label of what you believe about yourself to determine what the experience means. Your label is the whisper of your heart, subtle and sounding so much like wisdom and truth. There’s only one problem with listening to your heart… it often lies.
“The heart is deceitful above all things…” Jeremiah 17:9
Some labels may make you feel ashamed or embarrassed. Some make you feel proud or wanted or loved. Whether conscious or not, they were all created and put on for a purpose.
Labels can be a shield. If you’re honest, how much of your label is to protect yourself? The reason for your label may be a defense mechanism or a coping mechanism but the label itself keeps people from getting too close to question it. It keeps you from stepping up to take responsibility for it because, “it’s who I am.” But, is it who you were created to be?
Labels deflect responsibility from the person wearing it. If you label yourself with a disease or condition and that’s how you see yourself, it can easily remove responsibility from you to do anything about it. It can become the excuse for not doing what you were created to do – it gets to plan your life. In a way, it can very much become an idol. I know it did for me! Someone very wise once said, “you are not a sick person trying to get well; you are a well person resisting sickness.” That shift in perspective is EVERYTHING! How you see yourself in the midst of whatever is happening in life can either begin to set you free or tighten the shackles that bind you.
One of the things I have dealt with that caused so many issues is an acquired brain injury. I could take that and say, “well, I have a brain injury, whatever happens as a result is just the way it is!” but that’s not what I see in the Word of God, which is what I am doing my best to live my life by now (fully covered in Grace as I stumble along the way). I’ve learned that our brains are constantly changing – that they are pliable, in a sense – and impairment or not, I still have a God-given choice. Many times everything I feel says I don’t have a choice, that this is happening to me, but God created us to be able to choose, and as I do, I see changes happening. God gave us the ability to choose and expects us to use it. He even told us what to choose and when I read that passage in Deuteronomy 30, I can almost hear the plea in it: choose life! Choose life so you may live! Choosing life with each thought, each belief system, literally rewires our brain for health. I am in awe of this!
How many times do we get a diagnosis or something bad happens and we immediately accept it and stick whatever label that experience told us on our shirt? And then we say, “Well, it must have been God’s will! I am now Kristin with Lyme disease. Use it for your glory, Lord.” No,no, no! This is a whole separate post (one dear to my heart) for another time, but the truth is, God gave us not only a choice but the responsibility to use it well. He will not step in and make choices for us that He equipped us to make. He does not glory in our bondage. He doesn’t need us to be sick or poor or defeated to get glory – He is SO much bigger than that!
Lastly – I’m just going to say it – labels are even used as a badge of honor. Nobody likes to realize that they’ve chosen a label because it made them feel special. We all want to be known and loved and special just for who we are. But if we don’t believe we already are known and loved and special, a label can become something that makes us feel special – maybe not at first, and maybe not intentionally, but if we cling to it over time… absolutely. Again, I know because I’ve done it and I know others who would tell you the same thing. Is there a label you’re wearing that is keeping you in bondage but makes you feel special? For the longest time my response would have been “heck no! Get this thing off me!” I truly felt I was the victim of an undesired label. And it’s true that I didn’t desire it, but it did serve me well by providing a shield for me and in that way I nurtured it and pressed it down harder.
For me, it is equally terrifying and exhilarating to start to examine the labels and peel them off, discarding the ones that have been a shield or a false identity. I built my life on those labels. They are the only identity I’ve known and it is terrifying to lose them. It feels like a betrayal of the heart to let them go – and it is! My heart lied to me. It feels like I would be missing an important part of me if they were missing… but I am ready to discard what has been weighing me down. I’m ready to replace those labels with what God says about me so I can be who I was created to be. So one by one they are landing on the floor – those labels that I used and that used me. Those labels that somehow made me feel safe but also were slowly killing me. I’m not gonna lie, it kind of leaves me feeling naked and lost – like wandering around in the woods with no familiar path in sight (did I mention without clothes?)… who am I now, without those? And how do I live now?
And it’s also exhilarating to be free, because it opens up a whole new future I didn’t know was even possible and there is a big part of me who looks at the pile of labels on the floor and then back at myself and thinks, THIS is who God created me to be! Am I even an introvert? Or was that just fear? Who am I now? And this time, my Father gets to tell me who I am because He is the only one who knows exactly who that is.
Here’s another question that was scary for me when I first started thinking about it (it actually often still is) that I’ll post for your consideration:
If I didn’t have this label, who would I be?
Because that anxiety is not a label God created you with. That fear of failure is not in your original design – that is something you put on at some point that is holding you back. God did not create you to carry that illness with you through life… which begs the question: Who was I created to be?
If you have put your faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, you are:
More than a conqueror.
Have the power of the living God inside you 24/7.
Have all the peace, joy, patience, and wisdom you will ever need – you just need to choose it.
Have authority over all the power of the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill, destroy. You can demand back what was stolen.
The work of your hands is blessed and prospered so you can be a blessing.
You are protected, cherished, loved.
I’ve been thinking about who I would be without fear. It was enlightening to sit down and write this out and take some time to ask what I have allowed fear to keep me from and what might life look like if it didn’t dictate how I lived.
If I wasn’t, “afraid of heights”, I would climb a mountain and enjoy the breathtaking view.
If I wasn’t, “anxious about large groups,” I would talk to big groups of people because I know there is a real ME in there who would be great at it.
If I was, “more than enough,” I would exercise not to get a certain result, but as a celebration of life and this body I get to carry out my purpose in.
If I was, “dearly loved, just the way I am,” I wouldn’t be tempted to scrunch my nose up at the image I see in the mirror that seems to magnify every flaw because my identity wouldn’t be in that label of “appearance” but in who I am.
If I was, “protected and safe,” I wouldn’t go through life afraid of what might happen because the God who created everything out of nothing is the same God who lives inside of me.
If you have labels that haven’t been doing you any favors, you don’t have to rip them all off at once but for the sake of freedom and the rest of your life, start. Your future is bright, you have a good Father who loves you and has GOOD plans for you, you were created for a specific purpose and you are the only one who can carry that purpose out. Life is too short to live under a false identity.
You are the only one who gets to choose what your label says.