Often when I talk to women who have called with a question on More2life radio, I hear words about their concerns that label them, or their loved ones, in some way. Things like,”I’m overwhelmed.”, “He’s got a sanguine personality”, “I’m an introvert but my husband is an extrovert”, “I’m (insert letters) on the MMPI”, “My son is shy”, “My baby is high need”, I’m really type A, and many more.
In many ways these words are very helpful, but they can be limiting. They are labels we give traits in order to help ourselves, and the other people we talk with, to understand tendencies or characteristics in a more efficient way.
It reminds me of organizing a pantry. In pantries we store things like brown sugar, castor sugar, salt, all purpose flour, self-rising flour, cinnamon, nutmeg. Some of these ingredients look very much alike but taste and react very differently when we cook with them. Labeling them allows us to quickly recognize which is which and apply our knowledge of them to know how to use them in recipes. Without these labels our cooking would truly suffer. Confusing the salt and sugar would make for a horrible cake.
But, as in cooking, the label is just a starting point. Let’s take flour as an example. Just looking at a container labeled flour does very little for us. But once we know more about it we can bake lots and lots of wonderful treats. If we learn more we can also use it to create a rue for sauces, or coat chicken for a piccata. If we think outside the kitchen we can even use it to make a paper mache piñata for our child’s birthday.
Just as in our pantries, simply having something in a container with a label on is only a first step. Labeling the traits of ourselves or others isn’t meant to be an end in itself. It’s meant to be a first step in exploring what we can do with that “ingredient”. It doesn’t define us. But instead gives us a bit of information that we can explore in order to use that trait to become our best selves. We can discover how to use that part of us to reach goals and find the blessing of that ingredient in our personality, especially when mixed with our other gifts and talents.
But just like in cooking, this discovery and transformation takes work. A good cook isn’t born knowing how to make a wide variety of excellent dishes. She or he must read and work the recipes of others who know more, learn alongside those who have more experience, and perhaps take classes with experts.
Likewise when we are able to label a trait, we need to learn how to use that trait to benefit ourselves and others. We should talk with others who have that trait and see how they have grown to use it as a blessing. We can read about how to form and achieve goals using that trait positively on our journey. We can consult with great coaches and counselors who have become experts in how to use those characteristics as a boost to help us embrace all the possibilities God may have in store.
Again looking at our pantry, very few of the ingredients are delicious all by themselves. A spoonful of flour, or cinnamon, or almost anything all by itself can be really awful. It can seem useless and disappointing. But when we learn how to combine it with other ingredients and cook it the right way, we can bring out the best in that ingredient and it can feed us and give us joy.
Is there a trait or tendency in you or a family member that you find discouraging, frustrating, or limiting? I encourage you to instead see it as an invitation to explore the positive ways you can train and use that part to bless your life and be a blessing to others.
Just as any ingredient in our pantry can be used in various and wondrous ways when we learn how to use it, we can use any personal label to become the amazing, unique people God created us to be. We just need to be kind to ourselves, and creative while we look beyond the label.