A few reasonable definitions might be “to assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive,” or “an oversimplification of a group or individual that paints an inaccurate portrait of reality as it applies to that group or person.”
People who are pigeon-holed are classified consciously or unconsciously by another or group of others in an attempt to compartmentalize or understand something that is perhaps beyond their level of interest or comprehension. This allows them to put the matter aside and ignore it.
These neat little mental boxes effectively create barriers between the two parties and can cause open communication to disintegrate.
I find it to be particularly painful when the misperceptions, or lackadaisical approach to relationship building is perpetrated by those who should know better, those who claim to have a relationship with you, but clearly hale from a different planet.
Certainly, I’m venting a bit of personal frustration, but I’m truly writing in order that I might share what helps me to bear up under some fairly heavy annoyances:
1) I don’t have to bear them alone. I have a Savior who understands me for better and worse. He has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).
2) He understands my frustration because He has felt it in far greater measure than I have. Those who should know Him the best often try to put Him in a neat little box and they miss the bigger, truer, more beautiful picture.
“The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 14:2).
“…Those responsible for teaching my law did not really know me…(Jeremiah 2:8).
“…my people are foolish. They do not know me…They have no understanding…” (Jeremiah 4:22).
In John 7:27, Jesus is speaking in the temple and some want to believe, but they dismiss His teaching because of an inaccurate perception, “But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”
The people had their own version of what the Messiah would be like — a mighty warrior-king after the more masculine fashion of David, a lion from a far-off place. But they forgot Isaiah 40:10-11, “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power… He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” King David was first a shepherd, before claiming the throne as king. The Lord Jesus also is our Shepherd and is exceedingly patient with us (2 Peter 3:9). One day He will return as our conquering King, but in the meantime, He endures the mislabeling, misunderstanding, and mistreatment of His name. One day all will see clearly.
3) There is a teachable element in all circumstances. Sin and fear blind us to the truth around us and within ourselves. I have to ask myself, “How often have I been guilty of trying to pigeon-hole or ignore God?” I can then ask His forgiveness and learn how to grow closer to Him. You can’t change others perceptions necessarily, but you can learn from the situation and alter the way that you approach The King. When you truly love someone, it pains you to have hurt or neglected them in some way, and by realizing the distance you’ve created, you’ll naturally wish to move closer to them in proximity and intimacy in order to repair the breach, thereby growing positively in your relationship.
If you don’t know Him yet, introduce yourself. If it’s been a while since you put Him on a shelf, revisit the box, and you’ll find that you never really had Him contained anyway.