Seeing Beyond the Pigeonhole

My sister is the mother of four amazing girls. Part of their amazingness is how differently6235602790_c8f5e9bdfe_b 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):

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


Yup, we sure know where to place people and how to categorize what they have to offer.


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.


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.


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Image Credit: Lauren Rushing, Creative Commons

Amy Young


Amy Young is readjusting to messy middle of life in the US after more than twenty years in China and the recent death of her dad. When she first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you and watermelon. Often the only words really needed in life. She is known to jump in without all the facts and blogs regularly at messymiddle.com and tweets as @amyinbj and is the most unbeautiful pinner Pinterest has ever seen (but she's having fun!).

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    You really cracked me up with the books you won’t see at the Christian bookstore!!

    “Let’s face it, there isn’t much in the Bible that’s really kid appropriate without being sanitized a bit.” Umm, yes. Our oldest learned what sex is from, you guessed it, reading the Bible. Then about homosexuality too. And at the Easter vigil we attended this year I couldn’t help noticing how the story of Noah and the ark and the Israelites at the Red Sea involve lots of people dying while the rest of us rejoice of those who are saved. I noticed this especially because this was the part of the service where children were performing these Bible stories. For everyone who’s saved from disaster in those stories, there are people who aren’t saved. For some reason this really disturbed me this time around. :/

    Honestly, this was sort of convicting Amy. Who am I pigeonholing in the Bible, and who am I pigeonholing in real life too?? Thank you for the question. Will have to ponder it more. . .

  • Mark Allman

    I think the one positive to pigeonholeing people is that you reinforce the things they are good at and they end up trying to live up to those good things you think about them. The negatives are those you speak of and the result on not exploring all that one can be or even being open to something you think unreachable. We should not do it to others and we should not do it to ourselves.
    We can give gifts to others by our encouragement that they try new things that they consider new ways of thinking that they are open to endless possibilities.

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