Heard an excellent message this morning by our Pastor. His opening question: “How authentic are you”?
It seems we spend a lifetime preparing and carefully grooming an ‘image’ of ourselves. We are even taught in the church world that we must preserve an ‘image’ of no problems – no struggles – no failures – in other words – a false ‘image’ of who we really are. This is largely due to the fact that we do not want to appear ‘weak’ or worse yet – that God would appear ‘weak’ in us. We are strangely satisfied with the fact that very few people – even sometimes our own families don’t know us. The passing by of church people on Sunday morning when we’re asked, “how are you”? is answered by “great”! But what if it is not? Who really wants to hear that? Who has time to listen to a long sad diatribe about your day, your past week, past month and even years where maybe life hasn’t be so great at all.
I am caught between two generations. My parent’s and my children’s.
In my parent’s generation – you did not talk about problems openly. You did not admit that you were struggling with anything. Counselors were only for those who had serious problems. Real Christians didn’t have problems – at least problems that couldn’t be fixed by reading the Bible and praying more – and if you were filled with the Holy Spirit you simply didn’t struggle with issues anymore – and if you did you never admitted it. It made you appear weak – and who wants that? People who had ‘issues’ such as addictions or family setbacks were marginalized and assigned an outer orbit. If there was a divorce or a child from a church family who had gone astray – it was thought that there was something wrong with the parents. It was what they believed. (Clearly this is just wrong – and many parents today are still feeling guilt and blame that they did something wrong when their children are less than perfect) Confessing failures or problems was considered ‘self indulgent’ and weak. Therefore – no one ever really knew you – you had to keep so much of yourself hidden. This is not a slight to that generation – it is simply the way that they believed, were taught – and still hold to today. Being a role model and teacher to their children meant having to sacrifice their authenticity – because they could never lower their standard – but felt that it was their ‘job’ to bring up their children and raise them to a ‘higher’ standard – and so this became the cry of their generation – in the home and in the church – ‘never let them see you sweat’ – and ‘always have a teachable moment’ and ‘never show weakness – or problems to anyone’. These values were good ones! But there was fall-out as well.
My generation tried to take the good we learned from our parents generation – change it up – and make it more personal to our own children. We struggled with living ‘authentic’ lives because we were taught to keep so much of it inside and not let others think we had problems of any kind. We were so good at masking our own problems – after a while we really believed we didn’t have any! How naive we were. It leaked over into the church world – and if you were in church leadership like we were for years and years – you kept so much of your true self hidden away – for the sake of the greater good. It never occurred to us that we could be real. That we could ‘let down our hair’ so to speak. We had a few trusted friends that maybe we could confide in – but it was a risk to do so – and getting burned a time or two by doing this – we quickly learned our lessons and solved it by TELLING NO ONE.
My children’s generation is very different. They are quick to spot someone who is not being authentic. They were not raised on ‘appearances’, and guilt – as many of the ‘rules’ assigned to my generation did not exist for them. We encouraged them to talk to us – we gave them permission to ‘mess up’ and confess what they were struggling with – without a lecture – tried to demonstrate love and openness – realizing that ‘messing up’ is in itself the greatest teacher. My children abhor hypocrisy of any kind and are quick to spot it – in the home and especially in the church. The greatest gift I ever gave to my children was admitting I was a human being who had blown it. By allowing myself to be less than perfect – a flawed human being capable of much failure – they were able to see the grace of God working in my life – and it made me much more accessible to them – it made their own walk with God something real – as they saw first hand what God’s love, forgiveness and mercy is all about – in a personal and tangible way.
I am proud of the fact that both our children do not have the ‘appearance’ only of being Christians – but they also have their own journey of personal faith in Christ that is very real. They are not perfect – far from it. They’ve blown it so many times – but because Greg and I have also allowed our children to see that we have also blown it – it gives them great hope that Jesus can forgive and does forgive. His mercies are new every morning. He is in the restoring business – and accepts and loves us just how we are – with no pretense, half-truths or mystery. They do not have to hide how they feel from us. Instead they identify with us – and know they have an ‘ally’ in which to confide in – someone who has blown it too – and found the secret to overcoming – and coming out a winner – with great hope for tomorrow!
I challenge you today to become an authentic person who lives an authentic life. Is it easy to admit failures and problems? No way! It’s so much easier to hide behind the smile of ‘everything’s all perfect for me – thank you very much’ and keep your spotless reputation in tact. But your neighbors and the other people in your world cannot relate to this – at all! It is intimidating to say the least! And it is also amazing to note – that when we act like this – people are quick to read between the lines and spot a phony! When we had a small group in our home we always shared real stories of authenticity to those there – and they all told us how much they appreciated the fact that we were real people – and they too began to share and open up. People feel safe with you when you will be real with them in that way. The person with ‘no problems’ – or appears to be ‘too perfect’ will never be able to pour experience, perspective and wisdom into another. There just simply will be no opportunity to do it! They will just be looked at – and possibly admired – but not trusted.
If we allow our lives to be a ‘light’ as Jesus talks about in Luke chapter 8 – then we will have an influence over those that are in our circle – in such a real and dramatic way. Being authentic is a risk. Living that kind of life is always scary and risky because people can take advantage of you. But that is always the risk when you give yourself away and allow God to use you in a special, personal and authentic way. Won’t you allow yourself to be that ‘light’ today? Not hiding where it’s just safe and no one knows you – but coming out of yourself and being a true example by saying, ” look at what God has done for me! He can do it for you too!” Isn’t that what the gospel message is all about? We are called to give ‘hope’ and ‘light’ to all those around us.
I am praying for all of my dear friends today – as you attempt to live a more authentic life – and that you would be a ‘light’ to those around you – in your circle of influence today. One kind word of encouragement may be all it takes – as you slowly let go of ‘appearances’ and live a more authentic life today.