Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Labels



The last person you’d expect to be interested in a primitive hand-held label maker would be a thirteen year-old girl who enjoys Mp3 players and blogging. But my daughter was mesmerized by one at my office and then obsessed with owning one. In what may be one of the least spiritually relevant, tacky parental moves ever, I put a label maker in her Easter basket.
She was elated.

As days passed, I was repeatedly informed by strategically placed labels about the running of our household. I found labels that read, “Kristin’s hairbrush,” or “Kristin’s window,” or “Kristin’s laundry.” On her mirror, the label simply said, “Kristin,” in an apparent effort to clear up any confusion about who was looking back when she checked herself out. Thank goodness she had the good sense to label everything she owned. Before the labels, I’m not sure how I found my way through this domestic labyrinth otherwise known as, “Kristin’s house.”

Soon, objective labels morphed into subjective statements such as, “Kristin rules,” and my personal favorite, “Zoe is the best” stuck on the backside of our four-pound Yorkshire Terrier.

Enter a seventeen year-old brother. I don’t know who struck first, but soon I discovered a silent battle of the labels in full swing, with insults alternately showing up daily on each other’s bedroom doors. All I know is, the label on Kristin’s door no longer said, “Kristin’s room” but “Craphead’s room.” (Note to my mother: I do not know where they learned this word. Must be that crappy public school system! Geesh!)

Later, Jordan’s door read, “Pretty, pretty princess’s room.” And so it went.

Sometimes in life, just like in the game “tag,” you get stuck with a label that you never saw coming. Or maybe you rebound from being hurt by labeling someone else.

“Slow learner,” “smart,” “backward child,” “clumsy,” “shy,” “all-boy,” “life of the party,” “nerd”--we stick all kinds of labels on our kids; our kids stick them on their friends, and we even stick them on our selves, as silly as that is. For instance, we might stick “ugly" or “loser” on our mirror just to remind us how worthless the person looking back is. Sometimes we label other people to lower them in comparison to us, as if life is a competition.

The Bible has all kinds of references to slandering and judging others, and there’s even one reference to slamming each other with insults: “But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt. 5:22, Contemporary English Version).

Maybe one of the reasons God loathes name-calling is that even when he removes a label, stubborn glue remains, attracting other dirt. In other words, scraping the underlying glue is more tedious than peeling the label. Likewise, even after God breaks through our negative self-images and envelopes in his love, sometimes past hurts affect our relationships and cause us to react defensively toward others. We need the Holy Spirit to remove the residue and provide touch-ups from time to time.

As they scrubbed the glue from each other’s bedroom doors, my kids discovered that labels are more than paper deep. I hope they remember the consequences the next time they’re tempted to call someone a name. And if one day they teach their children about the battle of the labels, what a great teaching tool the hand-held Easter basket labeler turned out to be.

Revised 08.19.06

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