Posted on Dec 07, 2017 by John Holt
Have you ever been given a label or nickname that stuck with you even though you didn't really like it?
Throughout my life I have had various nicknames and labels thrust upon me by friends, teachers, coaches, and others along the way. Some of the labels were either fun or inside jokes among friends while others were affirmation for things I did or might be good at. But some of the labels were like a twenty pound brick chained to my leg that I never seemed to be able to shake. The label class clown seemed to be the one that teachers always hit me with on a regular basis. The worst part about that label was when they followed it up by saying how much potential I had if I would just be a different person. As if being something or someone different would release my hidden abilities.
Our annual confirmation retreat was this past weekend out at Tall Oaks Conference Center near DeSoto. Our seventh and eighth graders from Holy Cross and Salem gathered for group building games on Friday and faith development activities on Saturday. The main exercise started by asking the students where they see division in the world. It was pretty easy to come up with many answers such as racism, political division, socio-economic division, and many more. We then asked them to brainstorm all of the categories or boxes that they or their peers get put in. It was amazing to see all of the categories they came up with as well as all of the traditional labels like jock, nerd, popular, etc. Finally, we asked them to help condense all of the labels they came up with into six main categories. We put each of those categories in large boxes made out of tape on the floor and asked them to self-designate the box and label that either they fit in or struggled with. We did have one box labeled not labeled/unsure.
The next part of the exercise was powerful, as I asked them difficult questions like have you ever been bullied or have you ever done something you didn't want to because of peer pressure. If that question was something they had experienced then they were asked to leave their box and go stand in a huge blue tape box in the front of the room. They were asked to notice those in their box and those still in the other boxes and then return to their original box. This went on for about ten minutes in absolute silence and was so very powerful. Imagine middle schoolers having the courage to share their vulnerabilities in a large group while also affirming each other.
The last question we asked them was if they were present at the retreat. If they were we asked them to come forward and stand in the large box up front. All the students came forward and stood the box together and I told them very simply that no matter how they are categorized or labeled that they are all children of God and perfectly made just the way they are. Who they are is enough, and our creator loves them beyond the labels and categories others try to force them into. We spent a few moments in silence to let that sink in and resonate with the students.
As we wait in anticipation for the birth of our Savior, how does our creator gift us to impact our world in incredible ways? How might we get beyond the labels that keep us from being our whole self? My prayer for this Advent season is that each and every one of us might see beyond the labels or categories and see the incredible gifts in those around us, that we are all labeled amazing child of God, perfectly made just the way we are.
Peace- John Holt
Director of Youth and Family Ministries