Letting Go of Labels: Lessons Learned From a Prostitute Turned Princess

Have you ever gone to an event, maybe a conference or a retreatand been given a nametag?  You know, the paper kind with the peel off back that stick to your clothes?  Have you ever made the mistake of washing your shirt with that nametag still attached?   I have.  You might think, like I did, “It’s made of paper which generally disintegrates into nearly nothing when wet.  I’m sure my shirt will be totally fine.”   If you’ve made the same mistake then you know the opposite is true.  Somehow in the turning and swirling of the washing machine, the soap and water mixing together, that harmless little label not only has not dissolved but it has become so deeply ingrained into the fabric of your shirt that it is no longer of any use to you whatsoever.  At least, not for clothing purposes; maybe as a cleaning rag, perhaps.

And that’s just the thing about labels.  You hear them and after some swirling and churning in you head, you find they can stick like super glue to your personhood.  “Good for nothing, stupid, ugly, fat, privileged, poor, white- trash, high class, lazy, worthless, useless”, you fill in the blank.  Un-moved by any attempt you or anyone else might exert to peel it off, it remains permanently affixed.

Have you ever heard of Rahab?  I’m guessing that if you have, there is one word, a word commonly associated with her that immediately comes to your mind; prostitute.  She is the famous harlot who was responsible for hiding the Israelite spies sent by Joshua to scope out the promise land In Joshua chapter two.  Without Rahab there is no collapsing of the walls of Jericho and there is no Israelite stake thrust in that covenant ground.

Something else about Rahab, she knows a thing or two about labels.   She’s a harlot, yes.  But she’s so much more than that.  And she, like so many of us, had to figure out a way to climb out of the scandalous gutter that other people’s labels and expectations had thrown her into.  Have you ever wondered if there’s a way out?  Have you ever hoped that everyone around you would begin to see you with a fresh set of eyes?  Have you ever secretly longed to be someone else?  I have.   And I’m pretty sure she did too.   What you might not know about her story is that after all is said and done, after, the Israelites are comfortably inhabiting the Promised Land, Rahab gets her second chance.  Her family is spared because of her allegiance to God’s people.  She marries one of the spies she hid on her roof that day.  That spy happens to be an Israelite prince.  Which, you guessed it, makes her a princess.  A prostitute turned princess.  If that’s not a compelling love story, I don’t know what is.

Perhaps even more compelling is God at work behind the scenes.  He takes ashes and turns them to beauty.  He brings restoration to ruins.  And He takes a prostitute and turns her into a princess.   I want to live a story like that.  Where labels no longer have the power to control the outcome of my life.  What about you?

So we have quite a bit to learn from Rahab, here are just a few lessons she teaches us:

Risk is required.  When she lets the spies in her house she’s not just being hospitable.  It’s not a quaint little invitation to a tea party she’s extending to those men.  Allowing them through the door is an enormous, life-threatening risk.  It’s a treasonous act, one of which I’m pretty sure she is well aware.  And yet, in spite of every reason not to, she not only lets them in, she secures their safety by hiding them on her roof.  And when the king of Jericho comes knocking on her door, can you even imagine?  She tells a bold-faced lie, to his face no less.  That takes guts.  She recognizes something of extreme value, something you and I must take to heart.  If when you want to see big changes in your life you have to be willing to take big risks.

God must become your God.   Before the spies lay down for the night Rahab makes a visit to the roof and they share a very interesting and telling conversation.  “I know that the Lord has given you this land,” she says.  The people of Jericho have heard of the Israelite God.  His works and deeds are now preceding Him.  He is the one that dried up the waters of the Red Sea and the one that causes nations to fall by His mighty hand.  The inhabitants of Jericho are terrified of this all powerful God.  For Rahab there has been a shift in allegiances.   “For the Lord your God is God in heaven and above and on earth below,” she tells the spies.   For her, this God is not just their God it’s her God.  And perhaps, in her heart, she has begun to ponder, if that God is powerful enough to part a sea than maybe; just maybe, He is powerful enough to change me.  If we will ever find enough strength and courage to peel away our labels for good, that God must be our God.

We must be faithful to the seemingly unimportant menial tasks of our daily life.   When Rahab ushers the spies up to the roof she hides them under some stalks and flax that have been laid out to dry.  These are raw materials used to make linen, which is in turn used to create clothing.  Here’s where it gets interesting.   Linen made clothing is the only acceptable attire to be worn in the temple.   The presence of these materials on Rahab’s roof would indicate that she is a woman longing for change.   She is a woman desperately seeking a second chance.  And change always begins with faithfulness to menial tasks.  This resonates deeply with me.  A mother of four little ones, my life is a revolving door of diaper changes, grocery shopping, and laundry.   It can be challenging to find worth in the thankless job of mothering.  And yet, Rahab teaches me, she teaches all of us, when we are faithful to tend to the menial with excellence God uses it to shape us into the men and women we were made to be.

If we’re honest we all want to live an epic story.  And we need to know it’s possible in spite of the labels we cannot seem to shake.  So let’s open our selves to risk, let’s make that God our God, and let’s be faithful to the daily and often inglorious tasks set before us.  Who knows what adventure could lie just beyond view.

Like to know more about how you can change your labels?  Consider joining or hosting a “Reclaimed: Uncovering Your Worth,” a six week Bible study for women based on the five women in the linage of Jesus.

Christy Fay