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