Labels have been on my mind lately. The world loves to label things and people…especially people.
Fat, skinny, ugly, pretty, gay, straight, rich, poor, smart, dumb, introvert, extrovert, jock, nerd, righteous, wicked, happy, sad.
As I’ve considered labels, I’ve realized two things.
- Most labels are fleeting.
- Earthly labels are dangerous
Fleeting nature of labels
Most labels (like those I listed above) can change. Skinny people gain pounds. Fat people lose weight. Rich people lose their possessions. Poor people become rich with hard work. Sick people gain health. Healthy people become ill.
Very few labels are eternal. Here are a few lasting labels I came up with:
- Child of God
- Female or Male
- Daughter or Son
- Mother or Father
No matter what someone does, those eternal labels won’t change. Some might try to change certain things like gender, but God has told us through our prophets that gender is eternal. Man cannot change what God has created.
ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. -The Family: A Proclamation to the World, 2nd paragraph, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1995.
Most labels we use though are temporary and can be changed in this life or the next.
- Single can become married or In a relationship. Married can become divorced.
- Shy can become outgoing. Outgoing can become shy or introverted.
- Alcoholic can become sober.
- Sad can become happy. Depressed can become joyful.
- Addicted can become clean. Drug-free can become an addict.
- Sane can become unbalanced, and vice versa.
- Sexual preference can change.
- Appetites vary over time as well.
- Attitudes and personalities can change over a lifetime (or quickly due to a tragic accident or unexpected illness).
- Righteous can become wicked. Proud can be humbled.
- Silly can be made serious. And unsmiling can transform into laughter.
Earthly labels are dangerous
A close friend of mine recently disclosed that he was ‘gay.’ What I told him—and what I tell any who reads this—is that he is much more than a single trait, such as ‘gay.’ That label is temporary at best, and it does not describe the whole person. I am more than heterosexual and would be offended if someone labeled me that. I am much more than my sexual preference. It is just a small part of who I am. Same with my friend.
We are all MUCH MORE than one single trait we might struggle with.
Earthly labels are dangerous because they place us and others in binding cages that limit our freedom to grow, improve, and change.
I grew up with the SHY label. Because everyone knew I was “shy,” it was hard for me to be anything but introverted around those who knew me. When I moved away for college, it was stimulating to meet people who didn’t realize I was shy so I could be more outgoing. I was no longer in my ‘shy label-cage.’
There are many examples of those who completely reverse directions in life and become someone different–just like I became more social once I didn’t have to be what other people thought I was (Saul who became Paul in the New Testament, Alma and Corianton in the Book of Mormon).
Earthly labels are hard to escape. They bind us in ‘gilded’ cages, keeping us from reaching our eternal potential.
In the Book of Mormon–Mosiah 7:33–it says:
…if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye will do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure deliver you out of bondage.
We come to this earth with various weaknesses—shyness, selfishness, pride, addictions, struggles, and other ‘thorns in the flesh.’ If we justify these traits and succumb to our own will rather than keeping the commandments of God, we will stay in bondage because of those weaknesses.
But if we repent, trust in God, and serve our fellowmen, God will deliver us out of bondage, just like He promises in Mosiah. He can change us. He can rip off our labels and make us better. He can change poverty into wealth (both physically and spiritually). He can change sorrow into joy. He can change weakness into strength.
My friend is more than gay. He struggles with same-sex attraction, but that is not the most important aspect about him. Not even close. He has so many other gfits that describe him better. He’s kind, funny, soft-spoken, personable, spiritual, a peacemaker, smart, gentle, talented, and friendly.
Labels limit us.
God expands our abilities and helps us break out of cages earthly labels create.
He helps us remember the only labels that matter, like child of God. No matter what we do or how we live, that eternal label will never change.
The purpose of this life is to improve and be transformed through repentance and the enabling power of the Atonement into a people worthy to live with God. That is a joyous and hope-filled message we should share with the world…that it is NEVER too late to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.
We can’t change ourselves (especially if we cling to labels)…but Jesus Christ can (by freeing us from them).