As a counselor, I work within a system that often places a diagnosis label on an individual’s struggles. I frequently hear comments like: “I am a borderline.” “He’s bipolar.” “I’m ADHD.” “I’m an abuse victim.” “I’m an alcoholic.” “She’s OCD.” It’s crazy—not an official diagnosis —to take on a diagnosis as the primary identifier of one’s personhood. I want to scream, “No, you’re not!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like codes that unlock doors or allow me access to my computer. A diagnosis can be helpful. I have a little handheld gizmo that I plug into my vehicles that spits out a code, giving me a diagnosis of why the “check engine” light appears on my dash. The code is helpful so that I can determine if this is something minor that I can fix or if it’s a more complex problem that I need to have my mechanic repair.
Fundamentally, the problem is that while there is some truth contained in a diagnosis, a diagnosis doesn’t equal identity. That’s not who we are at the core. But it does describe how we struggle. And there’s a huge difference.
People are not vehicles. We’re not mechanical. We’re personal, living, breathing, feeling, longing, purposeful beings who are made in the image of the invisible God of the universe (Gen. 1:26-27).
Image-bearers. So what difference does that make in real life?
It means the person who was my 4:00 p.m. appointment yesterday isn’t a number, a diagnosis, or a case. She’s a person with a name and a story uniquely all her own. She should never be reduced to a diagnosis code. Yes, she struggles with a particular collection of symptoms that has been given a name, but that diagnostic category is not her name. It’s not her identity. She, like me and you, is a complex conglomeration of inherited tendencies and learned responses that have shaped her story. But underlying everything is her identity as a daughter of Eve who bears the image of the invisible God is at the core of her being.
Knowing that changes the way I see people. I focus more on caring for an individual’s heart, for who he or she really is, and focus less on treating only symptoms or merely correcting aberrant behaviors.
What we all need to remember is that we are not our struggles. Yes, we all do struggle and our struggles are colored by our stories. But we are not defined by our struggles. I know that’s especially hard to remember when we’re feeling overwhelmed in the middle of our pain.
So let’s help each other to remember this: You and me and everyone else we will encounter today is not a diagnosis, a customer number, or the patient in room 201. Each one of us uniquely reflects the image of God. It doesn’t even matter if we believe in Him or not, we all still bear the label of our divine Tailor—made in His image—and are worthy of love and respect. Remember that, and it will change how you see yourself and the rest of the world around you.