For almost eight years I worked in a library. Learning to work hard, efficiently, and quickly, I spent hours organizing books, of all shapes and sizes, and shelving them in certain places based upon the personality sandwiched between the binding. The information contained inside gave value to the outside, determining it’s worth and place on the shelf. Each book had its place, and in this place it belonged.
At the start of every shift I would find library patrons had mixed sci-fi novels in with gushy romance novellas, modern manga had been crammed next to the timelessness of the classics, the autobiography shelf overflowing with mystery narratives, and other books made their homes in spaces they were not supposed to reside in. Grumpily, I would pull the miss-shelved books and place them where they really belonged, where they fit into my pre-conceived labels.
Looking back, I recognize that I failed to see that oftentimes science fiction novels contain love stories, that contemporary manga sometimes include timeless conflicts that are similarly contained in the perennial classics, and that even autobiographies, written as fact, contained a lot more mystery and falsities than some of the most dreamed-up fiction tales. While labeling books did help me stay organized, I missed out on seeing a book as a whole, the way the author had intended. I had pigeonholed books to fit into one genre, and that genre only. I thought a book could only be a romance, a classic, an autobiography – nothing more, nothing less. Just as I enjoyed having my books fit into certain molds, to fill a pre-made label, we as a society enjoy labeling pretty much everything.
If you walk through the doors of any modern grocery store and pick up almost any piece of food, you will find that it has had a label stamped on it. Not only with a food label, so we can learn about all of the nutrients it contains, or nowadays mostly lacks, we will find many other labels and categories to describe food. Non-GMO’s, vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, all natural, the list goes on and on. I’m not saying that having labels and grouping things together to help us be organized is a bad thing, but what happens when the “things” we start slapping labels on becomes “humans”? …organizing and rearranging human beings to fit into categories, typecasting them to fill certain roles in our lives?
The obvious labels that we sort people by are by gender, race and religion, but what about the less obvious labels. The subliminal, unconscious, yet maybe more conscious than we realize, labels. Think of your friends. Would you say that you have labeled them? When I think of my friends, I know I have a group of friends who I label as the introverted ones, then there is the outgoing, party-it-up group, my book lover friends, most of whom I worked with, all of my Dr. Whovian’s and my friends who are in bands. There are all sorts of labels we use for others, and for even ourselves: Introvert or Extravert. Social Butterfly or Shy. Jokester or Serious. Street Smart or School Smart. Jock or Nerd. Rule follower or Rebel. Hipster or Partier. Fun or Boring. Each person has a label, and in this label each person belongs.
But the problem in classifying people is that we trick ourselves into thinking that we understand the whole of a person. The jokester can’t dare be serious, and a person can’t be both book smart AND street smart. Athletes shouldn’t be playing chess, and an introvert would never, ever be seen at a party. When we label others, we think we know them, and then move on. By doing this, we render ourselves sightless to the beautiful creation of the human soul that stands before us. And when we label ourselves, or accept the labels that other people stamp on us, we fail to see the beautiful creation of the human soul that lies WITHIN us. As we dish out dignity and value by organizing our family, friends, strangers and ourselves by personalities, class, hobbies and creeds we lose out on fully knowing each other, on parts of ourselves. Parts God meant to be when He formed us.
I have a friend who has always been labeled as “the funny one” throughout her entire life. She has told me that her friends expect her to have a joke up her sleeve, a humorous story on her lips and a smile on her face. Yet on those days when happiness is a little harder to find and she needs a shoulder to lean on, her friends tell her, “Stop crying. You shouldn’t be sad. You are the funny one.” They walk away from her, refusing to get to know another aspect of her, a side of her that most don’t want to know exists because it’s easier to put her in the box of “The Jokester” than to truly know her heart and the beautiful woman of God she is.
I say, let’s begin to see people and ourselves as our Father views us. Let’s ask for His eyes when we look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning, and when we see others through our own convex vision. We should let the one who defined the landscape of this earth with His mere breath, give definition to the landscape of our souls; souls that He has formed from the dust of this earth. It is God’s words, His truth, which gives us defining value and worth. And what does He call us?
He calls us:
HIS masterpiece, “For we are God’s handiwork” (Eph. 2:10)
HIS treasured possession, “God has chosen YOU … to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6)
HIS friend, “I have called you friends” (John 15:5)
HIS sons and daughters, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters” (2 Cor. 6:18)
HIS beloved, “My beloved is mine and I am his” (Song of Songs 2:16)
Most of my friends know me as a self-proclaimed introvert. Sometimes I don’t get invited to events because my friends think I wouldn’t come anyway, and they’re right. Most of the time I don’t. But I’m not just an introvert. I love parties with close friends, AND one-on-one conversations at coffee shops. I like to blast music when driving a car crammed full of people, AND I love to sit in the silence of Adoration. I’m from Vegas, yet I couldn’t tell you the most popular club, but I can teach you all of the card games I play with my grandparents when I have sleepovers at their house. Yes, I still have sleepovers. I am dairy-free, but I will scarf down a chocolate satin pie faster than you can eat a taco. I enjoy watching hockey, and have played softball, basketball, ran track, swam at meets but would never call myself an athlete. Most importantly, I am a child of God, His masterpiece AND treasured possession, His friend AND His BELOVED… and so are YOU.