By Ashley Vaughan
Too much. Never enough. Unwanted. Failure. Too loud, too quiet, too much of a stickler for the rules.
Labels. They cut, wound, and leave scars. Living in a fallen world, we can accumulate labels from others as we go through life. We obtain these labels — intentionally or unintentionally, directly or by inference — from parents, siblings, coworkers, bosses, the list could go on. And where humans leave off, our own minds and/or the devil (that great accuser) are quick to pick up and run with it. “See? You messed up, you always mess up. You’re just a failure.” (Anyone relate, or is it just me?) This internal dialogue serves to entrench the labels even further into our hearts and minds.
Paul shares in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God says, My grace is sufficient for you… (ESV). But what do you do when it feels like no one around you extends grace when you mess up? Not that there shouldn’t be natural consequences for sins/failures, but an attitude of grace and forgiveness can still be present in the midst of those consequences. And when that is missing, it’s tempting to think, “God, Your grace is great and all, but I have to live/raise/work with these people…”
Sitting in the middle of a rough week, this is something I’m wrestling with. And God brings to my mind a passage a friend brought up in small group last week.
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. (1 Chronicles 4:9–10 ESV)
In the Hebrew, Jabez literally means, “he makes sorrow.”1 Talk about a label! His mom literally named him based on the pain and sorrow she experienced during his birth. How would you like to be greeted every morning and called for supper by that name? “Come in, he who brings sorrow!”
But what did Jabez do about the label? If it were me, I would try to work harder, be better, try to achieve perfection, so that maybe — someday — I could prove the label false. Other personalities might give up or buck expectations in response. But what did Jabez do?
He cried out to God. And God answered.
We’re blessed to live on this side of the cross (and have the entire Bible, not just the first five books that Jabez had), and so we are blessed with an answer from God that has so much more depth and color. So, in the face of the labels we receive from others, what does God in Christ say about you and me?
- I am wanted (Ephesians 1:4–5)
- I am adopted as a beloved child of God (Romans 8:14–15, Galatians 3:26; 4:6)
- I am free forever from condemnation — so I will never have to pay the ultimate price for my sins (Romans 8:1)
- I have direct access to God and come boldly before His throne to find mercy and grace in time of need (Hebrews 4:16)
- Jesus declared that I — with all my sins and weaknesses — was worth dying for (Romans 5:1–2)
And the list goes on. (Literally. You can check out a longer one here.) If you believe in Jesus Christ, that He died to pay the penalty for your sins, and was raised from the dead (Romans 10:9–10), then the God of the Universe says all of these things about you.
I’m learning that when the labels and the accusations come knocking, the only way to combat them is not to work harder, but run to Jesus and meditate on who He says I am — because of what He did.
Will you join me? And not just for yourself, but turning around and creating that environment of grace for your own family? Truth is, we can tend to pass on our hurts to our children. But by God’s grace, He can work in you to break that pattern in your family, and lead in repentance when you fall short. He can redeem and make your family a beautiful picture of the Gospel.
1 Lockyer, Herbert, All the Men of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 165.