HomedotMagisReflectionsThe Labels We Did Not Choose

The Labels We Did Not Choose

woman typing wearing medical alert bracelet - photo by MedicAlert UK on Unsplash

The first day I put on my new medical alert bracelet, I felt a mix of emotions. On one hand, I felt secure. The silver links gleamed around my wrist, serving as a constant reminder that I was prepared for the worst. If something happened, people would now know how to fix me.

On the other hand, I felt tagged. The simple bracelet felt heavy on my wrist, weighed down by the declaration of this new label. The shiny surface seemed to scream, “She’s broken now,” to all whose eyes caught its shine.

I was now marked by something I had not chosen. I was permanently labeled. Instead of just Gretchen, I was now, Gretchen, chronically ill.

I think each time something major and unexpected happens to us, we can feel marked or branded by it as we work to grieve what was and to accept what is now going to be. My current label may be different than yours. For me, it’s Gretchen, chronically ill, but perhaps for you it’s something like John, widower; Jane, cancer patient; or Jenny, grieving mom.

No matter what the label says, however, I think we share in common the feeling of being weighed down by it.

So what do we do with these labels we did not choose? Do we simply accept their weight as a constant part of our new reality? Or are there more concrete steps we can take to lighten the load?

For me, I think I need to do the following:

  • Give it time. When a label is new, it seems like it is the boldest and most visible part of me, but over time it fades into the fabric of who I am. It eventually will become just a part of my much larger story, but it will take time.
  • Don’t shy away from it. Though this label doesn’t tell my whole story, it’s now an indelible part of who I am. I can’t ignore it, and I have to give space to exploring what it has to teach me about who I will become.
  • Ask God to help bear its weight. Deep down I know that God isn’t asking me to bear the weight of this new reality alone. Instead, God wants to help me carry the weight until it no longer feels so heavy. I just have to ask.
  • Acknowledge the share in Christ’s suffering. Though I don’t believe God wants me to suffer, I have to remember that God sent Christ to suffer for our sins. In a way, each new weighty label I bear is an opportunity to share in the mystery of Christ’s suffering and be there for Christ as Christ is always there for me.

What will you do with the label you did not choose? How will you bear its weight?

Just remember, it won’t feel heavy forever. The love God has for you will always be able to lighten the load.

Photo via Unsplash.

Gretchen Crowder
Gretchen Crowderhttps://gretchencrowder.com/
Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last 15 years. She is also a freelance writer and speaker and is the host of Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.


  1. Labels come and labels go. Labels have a short life span. People who tend to gaze at the labels give up the boring exercise and find better things to do in the time at their disposal.

  2. Gretchen,
    Thank you for this beautiful reflection and guidance. Your question is an interesting one. I have been “tagged” a total of five times which has required life-long treatment and life-long health risks. In addition to the wise guidance you offer, I might suggest one more insight which has made all the difference to me. Namely, look to loved ones who know your Spirit. Their loving words can be the voice of the Creator speaking directly to each of us. In my life, it has been these encounters that have nurtured my Spirit and inspired me to accept, embrace and learn from the experience of being “tagged.”

    • Robert, I love this suggestion. One of the greatest things I’ve found so far having a rare disease is the connection that you can make with people all over the world that have the same issue (even though it presents differently for all of us). In such a connected world, rare diseases and rare experiences do not feel so rare anymore if you are willing to reach out and make connections. Thanks for the comment and prayers for you.

  3. I have a chronic illness and, also, have knee replacement surgery scheduled in a couple of weeks. I’ve really been letting it weigh me down. Thank you so much for the four steps you listed. I can’t tell you how much they will help me on my journey! God’s blessings to you and your family.

  4. Hello Gretchen!
    Beautiful article and so timely with my present medical conditions. Last September I was hospitalized and was diagnosed with right lung pre-cancer, in November a diagnosis of Lupus and this January, a diagnosis for Stage 3a of Chronic Kidney Disease. The lung condition was in my 2010 medical records but the doctors treating me during my hospitalization for cardiomyopathy never mentioned to me on its existence. These conditions and the trauma and the colorful labels that my mother and brothers used brought my spirit down. I am now 75 years of age and kept serving the Lord as a giftshop manager of a Cathedral with no help, a Eucharistic Minister taking care of 32 souls in an acute rehab, 28 of whom were all anointed before they went home to our Creator, active member of RCIA and cooking for the homeless. Two weeks ago I received an anointing which was an exceptionally beautiful experience. I prayed before the priest came and asked the Lord that I may hear His Words. All throughout the process – through the confession, I shed tears and told the priest of all the traumas and struggles I have gone through and the incarceration of my body and mind of things I was accused of but never did. On my way home, I felt like a feather and as I write these ALL of the heartaches I carried with such pain is no longer there.. I think about the accusations with no emotions and a smile comes through as He restored me and made me whole that no medical doctor can do. The song of Be Not Afraid and Still are the songs that ring in my ears and my heart. Because My Creator only has ONE Label for me== His Daughter, together with all other Sons and Daughters of His. Thank you Gretchen!


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