Replacing the labels on our life

Labels can be important.

Labels identify things. They tell us what things are, and what they contain. Imagine walking into a supermarket and nothing is labelled… what a nightmare that would be!

Not long after he was born Jireh had a label on his ankle – it was an ID bracelet – but it was a label. It told the doctors and nurses who he was and who he belonged to, and so labels can also mark ownership.

Labels identify things, they can indicate ownership and labels can stick. Labels can be difficult to remove. And sometimes when you try and remove them it can be painful and even once they are removed they can leave a residue and a mark. Like those annoying labels on the bottom of mugs that you get from ‘$2 shops’. You have to soak them and scratch at them and scrub them and even then you can often still see evidence that they were there.

So whether it is physical labels, like the one on Jireh’s ankle, or figurative labels that we or other people put on our lives – labels can be significant indicators of who we are and how we live our lives.

What are the labels on your life? The labels that identify you? The labels that speak to your ownership or who has a say in and over your life? Do you carry the label of:

  • “Inadequate”;
  • “Failure”;
  • “Unemployed”;
  • “Addicted”;
  • “Guilty”;
  • “Self-important”;
  • “Depressed”;
  • “Fearful”;
  • “Busy”;
  • “Lost”;
  • “Unattractive”; or,
  • “This is probably as good as it gets”.

Are there labels on your life that should probably be removed and replaced?

Some labels we get used to and we don’t want to have them removed because they feel comfortable. And in our mind the comfort outweighs the potential pain that removing the label might cause. We can feel as though being defined by something, anything, is better than being defined by nothing…
If I cease to be an addict what does that leave me with?
If I cease to be in this relationship, as abusive as it is, what does that leave me with?

Some labels are convenient because they allow us to box and compartmentalize people. They’re just “boat people”, or “homeless” or “druggies” or “prostitutes” or “little criminals” …

Some labels feel impossible to remove and no matter what we do it seems they’ll never be removed or they just keep coming back. Labels of fear, inadequacy, or unattractiveness.

At about lunch-time on the day of Jireh’s birth – 8 hours after he had been born. The lead Paediatrician came into our birth suite. We were expecting to be discharged, sent home.

What we got was the opposite – 3 minutes of possible labels spoken over Jireh’s life…
“we’re concerned that Jireh has heart problems… breathing problems… that he’s going to vomit up every feed… hearing problems… bowel problems and that he may even have Trisomy 21 or Down syndrome” – and he said all this and he left. Just like that.

Lorrain and I were left sitting in the room – shell-shocked and afraid.

About 10 minutes later we made a conscious decision to snap out of it – we pushed aside our fear and the labels and we prayed and we prayed. We asked family and friends, who don’t subscribe to man-made labels, to pray too.

Gradually the tests and the reports came back. Feeding – good. Bowels – great. Breathing problems – nil. Chest x-ray – clear. This continued for 24 hours.

34 hours after Jireh’s birth the tests confirmed a label that Lorrain and I hadn’t expected or believed possible. He was diagnosed with Trisomy 21 which is also known as Down syndrome. Our baby boy was diagnosed with Down syndrome and once again, we were confused, we were fearful and we were shell-shocked…

That evening, Friday the 19th October I got home late from the hospital and I researched and read pretty much throughout the night. I wanted to know everything about this label and what it was that we were dealing with.

The thing is I’ve never been a fan of labels, particularly man-made ones. I don’t even like having the title ‘CEO’. I know, I have issues, but I am just not a fan.

And the reason that I am not a fan is because I know that the labels that we give ourselves are rarely the labels of God.

“For God so loved the world”… Jesus didn’t label people. He saw the labels on their life – “tax collector”, “adulterer”, “leper”, “blind” – but he chose to see beyond them and offer them new labels.

“Loved”, “forgiven”, “redeemed”, “healed”, “purposeful”.

These labels differ significantly to the labels given to these people by themselves or the world. The labels that we give ourselves, that other people give us, that the world would give us are often not the labels that God has purposed for us. And if they’re not the labels that God has purposed for us then they need to be removed and replaced.

Please understand that I’m not endorsing ignorance and foolishness. Cancer is real and depression is real and they’re not to be ignored and I would never advocate that. They need to be diagnosed and they need to be treated. If you have a health condition, any health condition, PLEASE seek and get qualified help.

But also understand that your health condition and its label is not who you are and it is not the totality of your life. Because Jesus covers all our labels with grace, hope, forgiveness and love…

Our label becomes … I am a child of the living God.

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