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One of the greatest crises facing my generation today is our aversion to authenticity.
Which is odd considering how much time we spend talking about ourselves. At no point in history do we have as much control over the image we present to the world than we do now. But more often than not, that image has been perfectly tailored to fit the expectations of our audience.
But what happens when we begin sacrificing our authenticity for the illusion of perfection? Quite a lot, I came to learn.
For several years, I was the perfect gentleman, boyfriend, church member, roommate, and companion. But underneath all of that, I toiled tirelessly trying to maintain whichever image I was currently projecting to the world.
As a result, the relationships I held most dear began to corrode. After one particularly painful breakup, I finally sat down and began a process of brutally honest self-examination.
And in those quiet moments, the Holy Spirit reminded me that the journey to true authenticity begins and ends with Jesus Christ.
Honesty with our Creator should supersede any perceived benefit we may receive from pursuing authenticity in any other arena of our life. Too often, I think we approach God as if the veil had never been torn. We stroll into the Holy of Holies dressed in our Sunday best and on our best behavior, and then proceed to tell God exactly what we think He wants to hear.
To approach our heavenly Father with anything less than our complete sincerity and transparency is to dishonor what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. After all, He already knows our innermost thoughts (Psalm 139:2), hidden motives (Psalm 16:2), and secret faults (Psalm 19:12), so an attempt to hide our true selves from Him is an exercise in futility.
Practically speaking, this meant budgeting in a time for confessional prayer during my quiet times. For me, confessional prayer – or “ugly prayer”– is a concession of all my sin, doubt, pain, and insecurity. It’s jumbled, raw, and anything but impressive. And in the stillness that follows, I meditate on the cross at Golgotha and the transformative power in the blood that was spilled there.
So, can people change? The Gospel guarantees it. And once I began letting the light into the rooms of my soul I had long ago closed off, my relationship with Christ became more fruitful, honest, and intimate. In the moments of vulnerability, the grace of God began filtering down into the fissures of my wayward and broken heart.
The core issue behind my struggles with authenticity lay rooted in the belief that people wouldn’t accept me if they knew the real me. In my mind, I would never be clever, funny, or charming enough. Thus began my business of selling counterfeit versions of myself in exchange for praise and affirmation.
I ran this con for years because, instead of basing my identity in Christ, I found my security in other people’s satisfaction in their relationships with me. Uprooting this sin from my life was one of the most painful stages of sanctification I have ever experienced. But before I could become a more authentic Christ follower, I had to admit to myself that I had a problem.
I encourage you to examine the social situations in which you feel threatened or stir up jealousy in your heart. Is it when someone funnier enters the room? Prettier? Smarter? Better dressed? More spiritual? If you have a negative internal response to any of these situations, it’s a result of your identity in something other than Christ being challenged.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in this past year is that people can’t have relationships with “perfect” people. Unfortunately, this realization didn’t come without cost. Masquerading as someone who has a perfect life, relationship, or job does nothing but alienate the people who care about us the most.
As my relationships with others grew more intimate, I had to work harder to maintain the illusion, and it wasn’t long before cracks began to show in my façade. When this happened, I would panic – freezing the other person out and placing the relationship on autopilot, inevitably causing it to stall.
Even after becoming more transparent with God and myself, I continue to struggle with presenting my true self to other people. It’s silly, but the fear of rejection still lingers. However, identifying and coming to terms with my own brokenness made me a more empathetic person.
The moment I began viewing people not as social capital to impress but as broken individuals in need of redemption was the moment I began drawing closer to the heart of God.
One Final Note
I don’t want it to come across that I’m suggesting we shouldn’t have or maintain good reputations. While acknowledging our broken nature is a primary tenant to our faith, we are not instructed to wallow in our shortcomings and shame.
As image-bearers of Christ, our good works and deeds should be like a light that shines before others (Matthew 5:16). But in this context, it’s wise to remember the words of Paul in his first letter to Corinth: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Don’t expect your life to get easier once you start living a more authentic lifestyle. My certainly didn’t. The very nature of authenticity means you become more vulnerable and susceptible to the hurts of the world.
But a little pain is a small price to pay for the rewards found in honest communion with our Creator and loved ones.