What are Your Labels?

I don’t like labels. They turn me off. “Emergent” this. “Reformed” that. Baptist, Catholic, Charismatic, Calvinist, Arminianist, Non-denominational (a non-label-label).

There was a time, however, when labels felt right–when labels were one way of sorting out the world. High school. Everyone wears a label in high school, whether  self-assigned or not. Carlos Whitaker wrote a post a week or so asking about high school labels. We all had one…

…Stoners, wannabes, slackers, jocks, skaters, punks, preppies, geeks, goths, loners…

My high school labels were both deserved and unwarranted. I teetered between the in-crowd and the outcasts. I had friends and foes on both sides. I was popular on a Monday and rumored to be a whore by Thursday.

It wasn’t until my junior year that I finally cut ties with the people who were so desperate to label me. They had to fit me into a box. Everyone did. No one was comfortable with anyone else unless they could put a stamp on them.

Until then, however, I wore a few different labels. I was called a jock, a STUGO-ian (student government snob), slut, goody-goody, Spring Fling Queen ( the pity vote for “queen” title, when people voted for you because they did not want you to win Homecoming Queen or Prom Queen), nerd (for taking “smart kid” classes), and a hypocrite.

I was called a hypocrite as my senior year started and people began to notice a change in me. I broke up with my boyfriend of a year. I quit drinking, quit smoking, quit cussing. I was generally happier and nicer.

I had found Jesus the summer leading into my senior year, or rather, He found me. I had given my life to Him. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, except that I no longer wanted to do the things I had done for so long.

My peers could not understand. How was the girl once called a “whore” now abstaining from sex? Why did the girl who never hesitated to speak her mind, even if that meant crushing someone else’s feelings now speaking kindly about her supposed enemies?

Suddenly, the labels that I once wore like armor and weapons, all at once, no longer suited me. They failed to capture who I was and who I was becoming.

People whispered behind my back that I was “not really a Christian.” Perhaps it was a phase or I was just trying to be trendy (Jesus was actually trendy and cool at my high school).

My parents assumed the same thing, I imagine. They thought for sure this whole Christianity thing would fall to the wayside much like my vegetarianism.

Well, here I am, 14 years later. The only difference is that, now, I wear many different labels:

I am a wife, mother, disciple, discipler, stay-home-mom, homemaker, conservative, Republican, blogger, speaker, non-denominational, “emergent” house church leader, and exhorter.

More importantly, I am called forgiven, beloved, righteous, redeemed, a minister, and a saint. Friend of the Christ. Follower of the One.

What were you called or labeled in high school or growing up? Did you wear your labels proudly or shamefully? What are your labels now, in light of Christ?

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18 thoughts on “What are Your Labels?”

  1. I was definitely a jock, although not good enough to be recognized as ONE. I was not very smart so I avoided the “smart guy” club. I was a Christian so I was known as the guy who didn’t drink, smoke or swear. i was a “nice guy.” I wish I could express how nondescript that now makes me feel. I was nice but made no difference in anyone’s life. Little did they know what I hid and why I didn’t do some of those things. i wore the “Christian” label proudly, but most of it was because it gave me a reason for being so strangely out-of-it. I don’t know how to express it in print Nicole. My labels now are fellow struggler, forgiven sinner, loved unconditionally, striving saint.

    1. Bill,
      Gosh that is so true, the label of “nice guy” being an insult at a certain point. People don’t even bother to know you because they think you are the non-threatening “nice guy.” What more is there to know?

      But thankfully none of that matters now. I love your “now” labels, especially striving saint.

      Thanks for sharing Bill.

  2. Band Nerd!!! I loved every bit of it! I was the only one in high school to be the leader of a drumline for 3 years. Not to brag, but I was good. In a health class we shared with everyone what they thought of each other and I kept getting: great, amazing, or fun to watch when they saw me play. The more I loved what I did the more it didn’t bother me when someone made a lame comment.

    Back then I was looked at as a good, nice guy. But not for knowing Jesus. I knew Jesus. I just didn’t have a personal, walking relationship. Now I help lead a bunch of sophomore guys and most of them have said to me that they see me as a man and a leader for them. It’s funny, when I talk, they get real quite in anticipation like I’m going to say something profound. Ha ha. It’s still really cool to look back 10 years ago and see who I was then and who I am now.

    Awesome post!

    1. James,
      I love me some band nerds. We called them “band geeks” at my school. A truly rare and unique high school clique.

      I love that you are discipling these younger men. You may not feel like you have something profound to say, but I can guarantee you, they are absorbing and soaking up everything you say.

  3. Oh high school, are we really going there? Well Ok. I loved high school but I was smart enough to know that there was way more to life than what it offered (college would be the best time of my life, right? oops, wrong again). I was similar to you, Nicole, in that I was many different things. I was a walking contradiction. And I liked it. I went to Catholic School for 13 years and was considered the goody-goody. I was crazy involved in high school. I was in choir and show choir, drama, I was on the leadership team of the multi-cultural group, on the leadership team of the pro-life group, and the leadership team of the club that planned Masses and prayer services. I was involved in the Mission club, lectured at church, was a DARE speaker, worked at a daycare, was science geek card holder, book nerd, Jesus Freak. I dropped band freshman year and got cut from volleyball and basketball so my hopes of jock-dom were crushed. I was on the honor roll and in all the advanced classes, I was loved by teachers and principals and hated by peers. I had multiple groups of friends and bounced from clique to clique. In same instant that I was the Jesus loving perfect student I was also rebelling (at least I thought so). I wore my hair short and spiky, wore big metal balls as jewelery, pushed the limits of our uniform by going to Goodwill and buying long polyester “old man pants” and retro big collared blouses. On the weekends and I wore black lipstick and heavy eyeliner and longed for the piercings my Catholic school didn’t allow. I went to legion hall rock shows on the weekends and moshed, was a groupy of the local garage band, and smoked cigarettes. I didn’t drink or have sex but when my older sister became pregnant I really wanted to do something bad- hence the smoking. A rebellious act that haunted me for 6-8 years. I was confusing to people who knew me in both my worlds, but I was confident and thought I knew everything!

    This summer is my 10 year high school reunion. My, things have changed. I hate labels. I don’t claim either political party, I don’t claim a denomination, and I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. What I know is that I am a follower of Christ, a reader of God’s Word, and the wife of Mark. I spent most of my younger years trying to prove that I was somebody, that I was worthy, but all along Christ found me worthy of His love even in my brokenness. So even now, in all the things I try to be, the only one that matters is that I am His.

    1. Carla,
      You really were an eclectic high school kid, weren’t you.

      Isn’t it crazy how we go from walking the line in all these different areas or cliques, to maturing and realizing that none of it matters. We can now feel comfortable in our own skin and like you said, call ourselves “His.”

  4. Labels definitely played a role in my high school experience. I went to a “Reformed” high school. I was one of the “good” kids, which meant I didn’t drink or smoke or party. I was a non-athlete in a school where athletics meant a great deal. I was a good student, and was nominated for a state-wide honor and I remember being greatly disappointed when one of the “bad” (partying) kids was ultimately chosen for the honor – as if my efforts to behave somehow counted for less than athletic skill or general popularity. During my time in high school I also had a real encounter with Jesus and became a “Charismatic” which further alienated me in the social structure. It wasn’t an easy road, but I survived.

    In the years since high school I have at various points worn the labels of “pentecostal”, “Word of Faith”, “Baptist”, and more generically “evangelical”.

    Now, decades later, I continue to find labels to be a fascinating part of life. The older I get, the less I allow labels to define me. It’s just way more interesting to chart a course that takes the good from the various “groups” one encounters, while not forcing yourself to have to conform to the rest of the baggage that comes from identifying closely with one particular group. The down side of doing so, however, is that no group is particularly thrilled to claim you – which sometimes means you feel like you’re still in high school, still on the outside. The up-side is that you eventually sort of get used to the solitude that produces – and it gives you lots of opportunities to rub elbows with various interesting groups on an informal basis.

    1. Ed,

      Wow, what an insightful and thoughtful comment. I think you articulated very much my own “growing out of” labels experience.

      You said “The down side of doing so, however, is that no group is particularly thrilled to claim you – which sometimes means you feel like you’re still in high school, still on the outside.”

      Man does that speak to me. I still feel pressure to label myself in order to fit in, but my instinct is to reject the idea completely–even if that means I often feel alone as a result.

      Thank you Ed. I was just exhorted and encouraged.

  5. I’ve always thought it funny how different the labels you give yourself often are from the labels others give you….especially in high school.

    I considered myself a nerd, not fitting in anywhere. Making good grades was such a high pressure issue I started developing an ulcer at 15. (I totally associated with Anthony Michael Hall’s character in The Breakfast Club. Other kids thought it was dumb that any kid might consider suicide over a bad grade…but as someone who had to answer to getting an A-, I got it).

    A friend I went to high school with told me that he considered me a “clique queen”…that I flitted from one clique to another, fitting in everywhere. I was just trying to be friendly to everyone and NOT label anyone else. Huh.

    One of my favorite things about facebook has been reconnecting with friends from high school that I thought were really cool and always wondered why they wanted to hang out with me. They told me they had felt the same way about me….which blew me away.

    I look forward to getting to heaven, and getting my new name. The one that only He knows. I think it will be the only thing that ever truly captures me. And I expect it will blow me away.

    1. Dee Dee,
      Gosh, I can’t imagine having that kind of pressure placed upon you at such a young age. It’s crazy now looking back to realize how very little grades matter in the scheme of life.

      I have to admit though that unlike you, I don’t really like reconnecting with people on Facebook. I still find them all annoying, caddy, or uninteresting. Maybe as more time passes I will change my mind and heart. Perhaps God wants me to be more open to those relationships too.

      And I love you bringing up the name Jesus will give us. Oh gosh, what an amazing thought. My mind cannot even comprehend the power of that idea.

  6. In high school, I was bullied so a lot of the labels pinned on me I really don’t feel like reliving. Outcast was one I can say and it fit pretty well.

    These days, I cling to the label of “God’s property.” I’m thankful I can wear that label.

    1. Jason,
      I’m sorry that you experienced bullying in high school. I was bullied too. I hate bullies and their existence can make for a miserable high school experience.

      I love “God’s property.” it sounds so simple, but carries so much meaning. We are paid for and purchased with the blood of Christ, forever indebted and enslaved to Him.

  7. Good kid, smart kid, uptight-frazzled-grade-obsessed kid. That would be me. We had a lot of the “cool” kids in our AP/honors classes, and I would say I danced the fine line in between those cliques and the nerds. I was a swimmer, so that helped.

    But ultimately, my image/performance driven self just caused me a whole lot of stress. It still comes out from time to time. But I’m greatly rewarded when I remember to depend on God’s strength and not my own. Good post.

    1. Josh,
      I wish I had been more concerned with my grades. I was the “cool” kid in AP classes.

      My husband is very driven and self-motivated. He constantly has to remember to rely on God’s strength, not his own…just like you were saying.

      I’m more of an unmotivated type person. People mistake my passion for drive, I think. I am all too aware that I need God’s strength, but it comes with a healthy dose of self-loathing.

      Thanks for sharing Josh.

  8. My first 2 years, IF people saw me they instantly forgot I actually went there (save for some people in band who would always challenge me for my “spot”)

    Recluse/Hermit/Loner. Those were all me. I sat in the band practice rooms practicing piano, or reading the bible then falling asleep.

    Come my Junior and Senior year I decided I wasn’t going to have any of that, so I just stopped caring about “making my parents pay” for moving me 500 miles away from my friends from Junior high, as it was me who was suffering. My one regret was not doing my frosh/soph years like I did my senior year.

    My “label” now? That’s easy.


    1. Ben,
      I have to admit, i never really wondered in high school why certain people kept to themselves or were loners. It was easier to just label them “weirdos” and “freaks” then to try and sympathize.

      I’m glad you made the choice to pull yourself out of seclusion, even if it was later than you would have liked.

      And I’m sorry on behalf of all the kids who treated you like you were invisible. I’m guilty, as well.

      Praise God for His adoption of us as sons and daughters!

  9. Nicole,

    Honestly? Okay.

    My life pre-Jesus was crap. I had popularity, drugs, women, and Satan. I thought it was great, but then The Spirit came calling….uh-oh.

    My identity now is simple: A son of The Living God of Israel. No joke.

    I am here to be about my Father’s business.

    But you know this already, don’t you Nicole? You walk the same way.

    Power and Strength, in Jesus’Name!

  10. Every negative label under the sun. That was me. I was hated at school, and I guess I’ll never know why. Nerd, geek, loner, outcast, goody goody (fail on them, I definitely wasn’t, but wish I was), THE MINISTER’s daughter, b*tch, the manbeast (that hurt the most), Amanda (cos she’s a-man-duuuh… also hurt A LOT), gay… and plenty of other’s I thankfully never heard. I was a mess because of it, I was so lonely.

    Everyone painted this picture of me that I was ‘good’ and ergo ‘boring.’ When in reality, I was doing all the wrong things in rebellion because of it. I live with the scars today of these labels and from my reaction to them; I still feel pretty worthless and I feel incredibly ugly inside and out.

    I also acknowledge, that even though I now know God is amazing and that I’m so thankful for him, that these labels still prevent me from knowing him fully. I continue to put myself down and if I’m honest, I believe that no one could ever love me (romantically or platonically). And I really don’t ‘get’ God’s love either… I’ve prayed against it, but I’m still waiting.

    My labels now? Thankful. Still confused and a bit lost. Hopeful for change. Reliant on God’s strength. Beautifully broken. Needing some spiritual heart surgery. A bride waiting for her heavenly groom to take her home. Prayerful. Still human. Honest.

    I feel like a lousy Christian most of the time because of this ^, I just continue to pray for a joyful heart… And for God to help me break down the walls that are stopping me from coming to him like I should.

    Sorry for venting, but thank youo at the same time for the outlet.

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