Now that the winter is coming where I live, all that remains along the footpaths of town gardens are bushy clumps tangled in leaves. Tags lying in the dirt give clues: mint, narcissus, flowering kale. I appreciate the time someone took to care for and identify these beauties.
Unfortunately, not all labeling is a positive thing. We see too much of the opposite in the world around us – hurtful and degrading labels put on individuals. When indulged in, negative labeling can poison the atmosphere, whether at a workplace, within a family, in national politics, or elsewhere.
In my own efforts to avoid labeling others in unkind ways, I’ve been greatly helped by my study of Christian Science, which brings out that God, divine Love and Spirit, has created all of us in the very image of the Divine. God sees us forever stamped, in a sense, as His beloved spiritual children. Our common Father-Mother God, the infinitely good cause and creator, could never assign bad labels to us. The opening chapter of the Bible reads, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Being “very good,” then, is the unchanging standard of true being. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that God is perfect, so as God’s image our true nature is spiritual perfection. And when we sincerely pray to conform our thoughts, motives, and expectations to this spiritual reality – and to see others in this light – this fosters forgiveness and the healing of negative character traits.
This point was brought home by Christ Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. It’s a story of two brothers. The younger one demands his inheritance up front and leaves home with it, while the older son stays home and continues to work for his father. The younger son ends up squandering the money and becomes destitute. In desperation, he repents of his erring ways and returns home to confess his sins to his father.
The young son is so sincere in his regret that he intends to ask to be accepted back as a servant rather than a son. The father, however, filled with compassion and joy at his son’s return, immediately forgives him and showers him with gifts and a feast. The tale is rich with spiritual lessons about the nature of God’s mercy and love.
What happens with the older son expands the lesson even further. When he hears about the celebration going on in his younger brother’s honor, he is seized with anger. He complains to his father that he’s never been rewarded in such a fashion despite all his years of loyalty.
We might say he is consumed by jealousy and self-righteousness. He has labeled his brother as profligate and undeserving. But the father’s response to his eldest son rings with love: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31, English Standard Version).
This parable’s message is timeless. We need to look upon others with love, not with disdain, and let our actions reflect the love God expresses throughout creation. This benefits everyone involved. It helps break the stubborn chain of limited, materialistic thinking that would paralyze progress and healing.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the healing, Christian denomination of Christian Science, wrote a poem titled “Love,” one verse of which reads:
If thou the bending reed wouldst break
By thought or word unkind,
Pray that his spirit you partake,
Who loved and healed mankind:
Seek holy thoughts and heavenly strain,
That make men one in love remain.
(“Poems,” p. 6)
What the world greatly needs is the pure spiritual charity that looks upon every individual as compassionately as Jesus did and responds to their need as our heavenly Father does: with mercy, forgiveness, and healing love. We can accept the divine standard as our standard, mentally perceiving any bad behavior as separate from someone’s true, spiritual identity as God’s child. That is, we can address the bad behavior while also affirming and accepting the potential everyone has for redemption and moral progress.
Then we see more and more that it is everyone’s true nature to love and be loved and to reflect God. And we actively let our light shine in a way that can help illumine a pathway forward for those needing to see that same truth for themselves.