When I Label, I Limit

There should be a more specific word for that feeling in my gut when I realize that I have been ever so horribly wrong about something.  It’s sort of tightening and sinking, but almost fluttering at the same time.  Shame gives way to hope.  All in the pit of my stomach.

All at the moment I read these words:

The person sitting across from me is always a mystery. When I label, I limit.  -Margaret Guenther

There are too few mysteries in my life.  My children, husband, God, friends, strangers, have all been given their labels too quickly and rarely break free of them. Even those I most dearly love are confined by tidy cages of assumptions within my mind and heart that do not contain them anywhere else.

So.  Incredibly.  Dangerous.  To look at someone and see anything other than a mysterious, ever changing soul that is precious to God.  To rob myself of the thrill of daily discovery and surprise.

I hear myself saying:

“It’s amazing how early kids develop their personalities”

“She’s one of those ______ moms/women”

“My husband and I have always been ______”

“I am ___”

And for the first time I realize, I have a serious problem.

All those times I was worried that the “eco-friendly, cart full or organic groceries” person using their re-useable grocery bag was judging me for forgetting mine, I was actually the one judging them.  I was judging them to be graceless, and so concerned about the environment that they wouldn’t respect me as a good human being who simply forgot my bag.  My “eco-organic” label on this random stranger ends up limiting my perception of their kindness, diminishes the chance that I’ll be kind,  and creates awkwardness instead of acceptance.  What a missed opportunity to fully live life.

There is something brave about living in a world where things are messy and shifting and uncertain.  There is something honest about letting others live outside of my control completely, painfully recognizing that even crafting a tidy perception of them is my vain attempt at control.  There is something promising in accepting complexity and anticipating the awe of change.

When I respect the mystery I acknowledge the possibility.

The possibility that we could be friends.  That we could learn from each other.  That we could be different.  That we can both grow to love each other more. That maybe the God I love is bigger than I realize.

It’s scary beautiful.  Join me?

Let’s embrace the beauty of mystery in one another, and find the freedom that comes when removing our labels releases self-imposed limits.



CC image avaiable courtesy of r n o on flickr.  License here.  Original image here.

2 thoughts on “When I Label, I Limit

  1. Courtney says:

    This whole idea has been majorily on my heart over the last week. I HATE that I label – what joy I am missing out on when I do this. What a blessing though it is to be aware of our sin, so that we can move forward in love and grace. Thank you for putting to paper what we so need to hear.


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