11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” 13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Judges 6:11 – 15 NIV
Have you ever experienced a conundrum? This can happen when the details of a particular story conflict with “truths” that seem to be evident. I was listening, recently, to a story being shared by a pastor who was of mixed heritage (White and Black). He related a particular episode where several hundred members of his church decided to leave the congregation because of his decision to marry a White woman. These were professing Christians who somehow were unable to reconcile their racist beliefs with the gospel of Jesus Christ. My conundrum wasn’t the existence of this hypocrisy. It was the fact that this happened in Houston, in 2010. The pastor and his (now) wife pressed on and are part of a thriving ministry. What would have happened to their passion and ministry had they conceded to the demands to disintegrate what they considered to be God’s union? I suspect that they may have gotten stuck in a narrative that would have labelled all Christianity as bigoted and hypocritical.
Labels exist everywhere. In the area of consumer advertising they are convenient and used to quickly communicate properties, functions, capabilities and value. Consider the confusion that would ensue if every product in the grocery lane didn’t have a label. Supermarkets would have to employ an army of people to communicate product characteristics to customers. For the purposes of quickly differentiating between inanimate items, labels therefore serve a useful purpose.
When this is extended to people, labels can be prejudiced, destructive and divisive. Incorporated into each word that is used to label an individual is a social code of that person’s value, capability, potential, desirability, social status and importance. Consider some of the categories and labels below (and the mental pictures that come to mind):
Racial - Hispanic, Black, White, Mixed
Physical – Fat, Ugly, Pretty, Handsome, Tall, Short
Family – Black Sheep, Bright One, Lost Child, Dysfunctional
Attitude – Crazy, Damaged, Insecure, Sensitive, Angry, Anxious, Depressed
Workplace – Rising Star, Poor Performer, Not Qualified, Incapable
For many of us labels are attached at an early age. We hear ourselves described using some of the words above (or others) and we eventually believe the associated code. For others, labels are attached in adulthood either through workplace or relationship experiences. We get stuck in a narrative that others have created for us.
This was Gideon’s case in the above passage from the book of Judges. Despite being called a “mighty warrior” by the Lord, he (Gideon) chose to recite the story that he had internalized. His clan was “the weakest” one within the tribe of Manasseh and he was “the least” in his family. This had so firmly entrenched itself in him that he didn’t hesitate to wonder why God would call him mighty.
This was the case for me. Early on in my life I internalized the label, received from others, of being “Black, fat and ugly.” With God’s help and the love of others, I was able to fashion and memorize an affirmation statement based on what God’s Word says about me. I share it below.
I was made in God’s image. I am his offspring. He knew me before I was conceived. He chose me when he planned creation. I am not a mistake. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. He has a plan for my future. I am his treasured possession. My sins are forgiven. I am not condemned. Nothing can separate me from his love.
My journey of growth helped me to shed my labels and not get stuck in the associated narrative. What about you? Do you know the label that is stuck to you? How much do you believe God’s assessment over what is communicated by the label? Share this with others who love you. Create your own affirmation statement and grow in your acceptance of God’s description of who you are to him.