(A little bit of backstory: I LOVE this post. It’s one of the first one’s I wrote. I have reworked it about four times trying to have it accepted as a guest post by “famous” blogs. No one wanted it. So I held it as a loved treasure. Last month I shared it with Self Talk The Gospel and today with you :))

Seeing beyond SMALLER

My sister is the mother of four amazing girls. Part of their amazingness is how differently designed they are: the oldest is a phenomenal organizer, Number Two is known for her comforting ability, the third daughter has more artistic ability in her little finger than I do in my whole body, and the youngest demonstrates freaky logic skills and likes to discuss her conclusions–a lot. As I list these attributes, I see that, even at this young age, it’s tempting to pigeonhole how I see and talk about the girls.

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve got our pigeonholed people in the Bible, too. Chances are, if you need an illustration or some biblical story to make your point, you’ve used one of the go-to examples–we all have. To see how familiar you are with some of the pigeonholed characters, take this short quiz (there may be more than one answer):

  1. Known for obedience: (a) Ruth, (b) Balaam, or (c) Absalom
  2. Model of leadership: (a) Haman, (b) Nehemiah, or (c) Peter
  3. Symbols that speak for themselves: (a) the Cross, (b) Golden meat hooks, or (c) Coat of many colors
  4. Known for their parenting: (a) Hannah, (b) David, or (c) Jacob
  5. Someone you’d like to have as a brother: (a) Joseph, (b) Jacob, (c) Cain, or (d) Aaron
  6. David and his ________: (a) coat of many colors, (b) mighty men, or (c) full quiver
  7. Be a Proverbs (a) 1, (b) 17, or (c) 31 woman
  8. He has the patience of _________: (a) Moses, (b) Job, or (c) Ezekiel

How did you do? As I said, if you grew up in the church, pretty easy, huh? Yup, we sure know where to place people and how to categorize what they have to offer. We Christians also have the negative archetypes of those we would never associate with a certain topic or character trait. You probably won’t see the following titles at your local Christian bookstore:

  • Parent Like a King: Learn the parenting skills of David
  • Juggling the Many Loves of Your Life: Lessons from Solomon
  • Dare to be a Huram: Finish what you start
  • Why I Kissed Friendship Goodbye: A tell-all by Judas

In all fairness, many of the folks listed above are known for their certain characteristic for valid reasons. Ruth was willing to leave her home, move to a new culture, follow her mother-in-law’s God, and basically seduce her future husband. She has a lot to offer when it comes to obedience. Or take Nehemiah, talk about leadership challenges! That guy makes anything I’m facing look like a cakewalk. And we are told to “take up our crosses” because it means something.

But what if.

What if we resisted the urge to pigeonhole people and we didn’t use our go-to characters, our familiar illustrations, our well-worn paths? What if we did look at David’s parenting skills, not with an eye for what-not-to-do, but for what to do. Or Ruth and how she used her sexuality in such a way it ended up in the Bible, sanctioned by God. It’s easy to put certain people on pedestals and knock others off. Caricatures are cheap; really understanding someone’s character takes effort.

I understand why children are taught about David fighting Goliath and the lesson being that “God is for us.” Let’s face it, there isn’t much in the Bible that’s really kid appropriate without being sanitized a bit. The problem is when we still rely on simplified, two-dimensional illustrations when we are no longer children.

The Bible is rich; life is rich. Your friends and family are complex, yet it is easier to default to pigeonholing them. Knowing people’s strengths is important, but sometimes a trait or gifting or talent can, once liberated, become constricting. Ask yourself: who is a person I have pigeonholed? What’s an additional asset they might have to offer? Be willing to take the time to see your children, your friends, your co-workers, and not sell them short or settle for shallow characterizations.

Have you felt pigeonholed before? I know I have and I hated it.

Amy

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  1. LeAnne May 15, 2015 at 6:43 am - Reply

    So true, Amy.

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      Amy May 15, 2015 at 9:06 am - Reply

      LeAnne, I just smile seeing your name. Big, big smile :)

  2. Hayden May 15, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

    I like this post too. It reminds me that there is always some surfacey illustration from each Bible story, but there is ALWAYS something more going on, deeper than meets the eye if you are willing to dig for it.

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      Amy May 16, 2015 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      Hayden, I’ve seen “McFarland” twice since I first wrote about wanting to see it and I appreciate your encouragement to see it. I love that movie! And yes to the always something more going on in a Bible story :)!

  3. Mark Allman May 15, 2015 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    I think the one positive to pigeonholeing people is that you reinforce the things they are good at and they end up trying to live up to those good things you think about them. The negatives are those you speak of and the result on not exploring all that one can be or even being open to something you think unreachable. We should not do it to others and we should not do it to ourselves.
    We can give gifts to others by our encouragement that they try new things that they consider new ways of thinking that they are open to endless possibilities.

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      Amy May 16, 2015 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      Ah Mark, good point about reinforcing the positives — I’m tired so my brain isn’t coming up with a good term. I guess I tend to think of pigeonholing as more of a negative, but I see your point. It is good and important to fan the flame in areas we are gifted. I agree with you :)

      • Mark Allman May 17, 2015 at 6:45 am - Reply

        I think your overall point is most important. Our tendency is to sell people short and God too. We have to fight the urge to only view others in our image. If we do then we miss so much of that richness in life and what their diverse abilities can be; ours too. We also have to encourage others to not sell themselves short; that they are not locked into the abilities or characteristics they currently have. I am thankful that we all have the opportunity to be more than we currently are.

  4. Laila Sakakini May 15, 2015 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    I LOVE IT!
    very convicting :D

  5. Tanya Marlow May 16, 2015 at 4:56 am - Reply

    I love this post!! So true that we pigeonhole our Christian lessons from surface-views of scripture.

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      Amy May 16, 2015 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks Tanya, coming from you, this means a lot to me!

  6. David Rupert May 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    Amy, I can see why you love this post. I do too! We do tend to stick people into convenient boxes and label them. But the problem is that people aren’t easily labeled and they tend to break out of boxes.

    Your biblical examples are all flawed. Just like you. Just like me.

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