The old school-friends who still see you as the ‘joker’? Impossible to have a serious conversation with them. Slightly disappointed if you’re not cracking gags. ‘Are you okay? You seem a bit – flat? Cheer up!’
The family members for whom you’ll always be a trouble-maker? You’ve got a proper job now, a family. But they still treat you like you’re dirty, embarrassing. Can’t be left alone with the cutlery in case you flog it or stab someone. This week I was reading about a girl who grew up as the golden child in her family, whilst her sister was always the black sheep. Whatever she did, her mother would celebrate – but for her sister, no achievements were ever enough. As they grew older, this changed – but not in a healthy way. The girl got married and moved half-way across the world. Her sister however, remained close to home. But whilst her mother started to embrace her sister – (the former Black Sheep) she rejected her, with the same intensity with which she’d once loved her “Golden Child”. For the mother, relationships were negotiable. But roles were not.
And these roles or names have power. Despite our best intentions, we often start to act the way that others expect. Why?
Firstly, it’s easier to do what people want. Familiarity is comforting for both parties. It’s tiring trying to break out of the box; easier to just don the costume and take it off at home.
Negative expectations are equally difficult. If someone treats you suspiciously for example, you start to feel guilty. Then you act guilty. Even passing the salt becomes a covert operation: but you’ve done nothing wrong. You end up babbling about your charidee work and parading your kids like they’re some sort of trophy. Look at me, I’ve changed. I’m no longer that person – and maybe I never was.
What’s interesting is that this can also work in reverse.
There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises, when Batman challenges Catwoman (bear with me on this), to act out of a bigger motive than self-interest. Laughing, she mocks him and shakes her head. Can’t teach an old cat new tricks – she’ll do what she has to, but nothing more.
However, just before she heads off to sexy-bad-girl-on-bike-land (Eastbourne?), Batman catches her (leather-clad) elbow. He says:
‘There’s more to you than that’.
She blinks for a second and without replying, speeds off. But those words change everything: they speak her into a new way of being and for the first time she acts out of genuine concern for other people.
But it’s more than a comic fantasy. Jesus calls into being the things that were not – he too renames us, and in the process, we actually become what we weren’t.
God .. gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Rom 4:17b)
More than the labels other people give us.
More than the tags we give ourselves.
More than our past or our mistakes – or even our successes.
Loved. Accepted. Blameless. Beautiful.