I had two major problems helping my daughter put together her fall leaf collection for school. First, we only have three trees in our yard. Second, those are about the only trees I can identify, and that’s because I planted them.
The way I figured it, she either needed a smarter dad or we needed to get some help. We didn’t have time for the first option, so we had to get creative.
Fortunately we have a fantastic park in our town with a wide variety of trees, and they are all labeled with tiny signs. I have a suspicion the trees were planted to help kids like mine get a good grade on their leaf assignments no matter who their parents might be.
Labels are a fantastic resource. They can help you make sense out of things you don’t understand. Hmm, what is that tree with gigantic leaves? It’s huge! Oh, it’s a Bigleaf Magnolia.
They can also help you differentiate between two things are similar. Hey, is that a Sugar Maple? Nope, it’s a Red Maple. They kind of look alike.
And labels make it easy to identify an object without having to carefully examine it each time. How many lobes does that thing have? Do the veins go all the way to the edge? Who cares? Just read the sign!
It’s no wonder as humans we love to categorize and label things. It just makes life simpler. This is great when it comes to helping your kid with a fall leaf collection. Not so great when we try to apply the same principle to people.
People are hard to understand, especially people who are different than us–different personalities, different backgrounds, different political parties, different nationalities, different generations or different whatever. So to make life simpler, we just use labels.
Oh, you know how Maria is. She’s such an introvert.
Ray? I can’t stand that guy. He’s one of those artistic types.
Don’t get me started on Sarah. You know who she voted for.
What do you expect from John? He’s a Duke fan.
Okay, I might actually agree about the last one. Just kidding.
It’s convenient to label people but rarely accurate. Why? Because human beings are way more complicated than that. We all know that’s true about ourselves. You ever had someone try to label you or lump you in with a stereotype?
We bristle against that kind of treatment because we know it’s not fair. We’re so much more than the labels other people try to hang on us, but sometimes we struggle remembering the same is true for others.
That’s why Jesus gave the human race one big label. It says “beloved.” Each of one us is treasured by God, and he expects us to treat each other accordingly.
Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34 NLT).
Last month I visited that same park again where we found the labels on all the threes. They were hosting an art fair, and the sidewalks were jammed with people checking out the booths that lined both sides. There were paintings, wood carvings, sculptures, leather crafts and every other artistic medium you could imagine. The crowd was just as eclectic as the artwork in the booths, people of every shape, size, color, clothing style and walk of life.
It would have been so easy for me to label each one of them and for them to label me.
But that’s when it hit me, just a beautiful thought out of the blue. The real works of art here aren’t in the booths. They’re on the sidewalk in front of me. Masterpiece creations all made in the image of God. For just a second I caught a glimpse of how spectacular, how fantastic, everyone in the crowd must look to him.
No one wonder Jesus told us to love beyond labels. He saw people as they truly are. I hope as I follow him, I can learn to do the same.
So this fall, let’s save our labels for leaf collections and other projects where we’re sure to need their help. When it comes to dealing with people, however, let’s stick to the label of love.
For more inspirational thoughts about fall, check out Tales from the Leaf Pile: A Holiday Road Devotional, available October 2017. For updates on the Holiday Road devotional series and other books from Jason sign up here.