We humans use labels. They help us organize the world. Family. Friends. Colleagues. Young. Middle-aged. Old. Driver. Pedestrian. Highschooler. Graduate.
These labels are benign enough, but sometimes they don’t just organize us, they trap us. I have heard a kid say “I am not a real food eater.” Did he tell himself that, or did a parent/teacher/adult say that to him one day the brussels sprouts were undercooked, and he now carries that label as identity, after a specific picky-eating afternoon? How about “gifted?” I know a parent who was crushed when the results of her child’s gifted test were shared in front of her kindergartner. “She’s a completely normal, average student,” the test proctor proclaimed to the world. Her mother swears that on that day, her daughter’s self-confidence and character changed because of that interchange. She shrank under her new label. The wheels are turning now – you can think of some examples you’ve seen, experienced, or fought off in your own life.
How about “poor?” Poverty is real, I am not arguing otherwise. We call poverty a vicious cycle. “The working poor.” In America, the IRS adopted an arbitrary suggestion for who is, and isn’t, poor. That happened in the 60s. Now the new thing I learned recently after reading Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s, Thou Shall Prosper, while poverty is an idea as old as time, the idea of having an income and being “poor,” is still new. The ancient Hebrew scriptures say the poor will always be among us, but Jewish wisdom teaches that the “poor” are those who literally don’t know where their next meal will come from. So, if you made $1000 a month and had a few kids, that falls within the income limits for poverty for today. But if you made that equivalent in Bible times, you would not be considered “poor.” You’d know where your next meal was coming from and you could help take care of the poor! This blew me away.
Why? What does that mean? Part of poverty is mindset. Are you poor… or have you fallen on hard times? Are you impoverished… or are you broke? Are you a low-income family… or are you making a small salary now, and you’re working on your career and your income?
The bible says in Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Take a good, honest, brutally honest, look at your attitudes about your situation. Are you conformed to what this world says you are, or are you renewing your mind and transforming yourself to be all that God has called you to be?
One more thing – those standards of poverty? The federal definition of “poor”? There isn’t one for “middle class,” “upper class,” or “rich.”
What label are you wearing, and why? More importantly, how has it affected your identity? It’s a serious question and deserves serious reflection.