What the Labels We Give Ourselves Can’t Grant Us

If we are citizens in the Kingdom of God, then to whom have we pledged our allegiance? Christine Hoover asked this question, recognizing that in order to orient herself toward the Kingdom, she had to explore her heart. Our experiences with confusion, anxiety, isolation, and the painful consequences of the actions we take in allegiance to false kings keep us from the joy and life Jesus promised us. In her new book, With All Your Heart: Living Joyfully through Allegiance to King Jesus, Christine seeks to help us root out our own misplaced allegiances to live wholly as a subject of the King who made and redeemed us. Today we welcome her back to the farm’s front porch to share some of her own story…

guest post by Christine Hoover

When we become a Christian, we commit to loving Jesus alone and having no other loves before Him, but we face the ongoing challenge of keeping good things—good things that God Himself has given— from becoming ultimate in our lives and usurping Christ’s place.

Love and acceptance are good gifts, but they can easily morph into a false king if we’re not careful.

In fact, we face the most temptation when God has clearly implanted a good desire in us, but we have no outlet to act on that desire.

Often our response is to seek what will meet our desires, whether through relationships, roles, or responses from others.

These culminate in the labels we give ourselves or hope to give ourselves and we view life through the lens of these labels.

Our social media bios tell this story: Husband. Father. Pastor.

Our small talk: “What do you do?” Architect. Teacher. Engineer. Student.

The letters by our names: Mrs. MD. PhD.

The pictures we share: Best friends. Trips. Happy Family. Fit body.

We hope people see that we’re wanted, intelligent, included, adventurous, healthy, accomplished, hardworking, and creative.

All of these are good things; anything we’ve been given or accomplished or enjoy are gifts of grace, every single one.

But what if we don’t have a label that we desperately want?

What if we’ve had a label we loved and it got stripped away?

What if we have a label we don’t want and actually despise?

We tend to believe our worth is wrapped up in certain labels.

These are the exact places in our hearts where our allegiance to King Jesus gets tested most. The longing and at times despair we feel in an unmet desire can so easily turn to feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, invisibility, shame, frustration, and bitterness.

These feelings often become a label unto themselves, which we wear like name tags only we ourselves see.

For the longest time, I wanted to be a published author. I spent years writing in obscurity, mostly for myself.

Although publication seemed so far out of reach, time spent writing only fed the desire more. I wanted to write words that others would see, and I wanted those words to give voice to their own experiences in a helpful way.

And then someone took a chance on me.

A book would sit in the bookstore with my name on the cover! When I signed the contract, I couldn’t imagine what the book’s release day would feel like, but as I proudly strapped on the label of “Author,” I felt like a firework bursting into a million shards of color. I’d finally arrived.

The book came out, and then another, and then another. I’m thankful for the privilege of writing, and I will do it as long as I have opportunity, but there were obstacles and difficulties in this work I never saw coming.

As soon as the ink dried on that first contract and the heart firework dissipated, my goal line moved, the panic set in, and the hard work began.

The book came out, and shockingly it wasn’t a New York Times bestseller. Some people in my life celebrated and some yawned.

Strangers wrote reviews on the internet, and I was once again standing naked, but this time before the world. Or at least the very small world that knew the book existed.

There is beauty in difficult, unwanted things, and there are thorns that come with good things—relationships, community, children, marriage, church, and vocation, to name a few.

These good things become painful at times for many reasons, but I’m starting to see how my idealism of what’s good creates pain for me.

When I expect good things to give me ultimate joy, and when I expect they can (and should) be perfect, I don’t equate the challenges that inevitably come in them with God’s goodness and growth in me.

Idealism in any area can easily become idolatry: trying to force perfection from the created rather than turning to see the perfection of my Creator.

When we demand perfection from life, we make our desired labels the most defining aspect of who we are, and we’re unable to receive gifts as gifts.

To idealize is to idolize.

When we realize this, we don’t have to then become hopeless, as if the good cannot actually be good.

Instead, we see that who we are and everything we have is a gift from God, and we’re free to enjoy and use those gifts as an offering back to Him. This is life.

We often believe the opposite: it’s only when we get what we desire or we rid ourselves of what we don’t desire that we’ll finally experience life. We’ll be at peace, happy, and self-assured.

But there’s always another finish line, another accolade to reach for, another person who’s doing it better than you. And getting that label, whatever it is, comes with its thorns.

No one has achieved or married or parented or exercised their way out of the thorns, and no one ever will.

Our souls simply weren’t made for labels.

Our souls weren’t made for fame, or millions of dollars to spend on ourselves, or human relationships as our ultimate end.

Life is not found in labels.

Solomon, who tried on every possible human label, summarized his pursuits this way:

“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Eccles. 1:14). “Everything done under the sun” is another way of saying that we look for life in manmade thought and attainment, and we can’t ever grasp it, because it’s not there.

Our souls were made to use everything we have, given or acquired, rose or thorn, to showcase the importance and beauty of God.

Every relationship, every role, every present moment is how God’s determined that we can best know Him and make Him known.

 

Christine Hoover is a pastor’s wife, mom of three boys, host of the By Faith podcast, and author of several books, including With All Your Heart: Living Joyfully through Allegiance to King Jesus, Searching for Spring, Messy Beautiful Friendship, and From Good to Grace. Her work has appeared on Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and For the Church. 

Our hearts are made for unswaying allegiance to a king and a kingdom, a concept that Jesus talked about more than any other. Yet every day, the false kings of anxiety, approval, comfort, image, escape, power, accumulations, self-sufficiency, supremacy, and shame plot to reign over our hearts instead. Their lies about the true king are so subtle and insidious that we rarely recognize them, and we go on living with divided loyalties that stall our spiritual growth, infect our relationships, and hinder our witness.

If you want to find freedom from the forces vying for your heart, let Christine equip you for the fight. In this approachable yet provocative book, she helps you root out your own misplaced allegiances so that you can live wholly as a subject of the king who made and redeemed you.

[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]