Authenticity is a rigorous inside-out consistency that courageously cares for others.
Awakening the quieter virtues, Gregory Spencer
What does it mean to be authentic? We tend to define it much like the dictionary – real, legitimate, bona fide. So very little in our lives is fully real anymore – fake news, polyester, preservatives, social media. We are craving that which is real. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we want to be real.
So why aren’t we? In a society that is about “what you see is what you get” and “letting it all hang out” (did I just date myself there? Probably), we talk big about being who we truly are, but we don’t put it into practice very often. What was your answer the last time you heard the question “how are you?” Was it an honest “Well, I’m stressed because the dishwasher overflowed, my kid is flunking English, I’ve gained ten pounds, and I’m up to my eyeballs in debt. How are you?” Or is the standard “Fine! (smiley emoji)”
Now I’m not saying that airing our dirty laundry as a response to a pretty inauthentic question to begin with is the definition of authenticity. As a matter of fact, I will argue that it’s not. The truth is that the person asking that question really doesn’t want an answer but actually just wants an exchange of shallow pleasantries. But what if more of us answered truthfully? Would it change the narrative? It would certainly probably stop the conversation flat.
I think authenticity isn’t the glib answer or the glib question, but rather a determination to live our lives on the outside the same way we are on the inside. WITHIN REASON! Sometimes my inside isn’t so pretty. Sometimes my inside is querulous and argumentative and frankly, a little nasty. To let that out isn’t to be authentic, except in very careful safe situations where I am known and loved IN SPITE of that part of me. To let that out is just to, in the words of Pastor Kris in a fabulous sermon on this topic, be an authentic jerk. I’m not sure the world needs anymore authentic jerks.
Maybe to be authentic means allowing our insides to be changed to match our outsides? This is part of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. What if the best of both inside and outside matched, and the icky stuff was transformed? And then what if we were real about that process?
I don’t think there is anything wrong or shameful in sharing our struggles. Here is a secret. I’m not perfect. Neither are you. As far as I know only one person was ever perfect. So I want to be more like Him. As hard as I try, and I should try, I certainly won’t achieve it this side of heaven.
What if being authentic has a different meaning for those of us who are Christians than for the rest of the world? So often “religious” people are branded as a hypocrites. BECAUSE WE ARE! Jesus went after the religious bigwigs of His time going so far as to call them “whited sepulchres.” I love this term, mostly because we don’t use it so much anymore. We plant our dead people. In Jesus’ time and place, they put bodies into carved tombs that were whitewashed on the outside to be all pretty and attractive, but the insides of which did not smell so very good. Jesus calls out the religious hypocrites of His time, telling them that while they look good externally, they are actually quite stinky.
Hmm, people. Are we as Christians as different from that as we should or would like to be? Are we open with our non-Christian neighbors about our very real struggles? Or do we put on a pious face and pretend everything is hunky-dory?
One of the most beautiful things about following Jesus is that we don’t have to be one thing on the outside and another on the inside. If we had it as all together as we want the world to believe, we wouldn’t need a Savior.
Somebody once asked me if I didn’t believe that people at heart were basically good. I had to answer that I did not, based on my personal experience of my own soul. My insides aren’t so pretty. By all external appearances, I would be considered a ‘good’ person. But I know the thoughts I have and I am rather frequently not so proud of them. But this is where grace comes in. I am being continually renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit’s work. When I allow that to happen, when the Spirit scrubs the inside of the tomb, then my outsides and insides can begin to match.
I’m not, however, allowed to get hung up on my own goodness/badness. Authenticity says that I am not allowed to be the center of my universe. Being authentic means I take what God is doing in my life and I let it spill out to other people. To the lady I meet in the grocery line. To the hasty jerk that cuts me off on the road. To my friend struggling with cancer. To be authentic means to take a step in courage to love others – really love them – where they are, not where I think they should be. To allow a transparency in my own life that lets the light of Jesus shine through. When I’m wrong, I apologize, When I’m right, I don’t press the point. When I’m confused, I admit I don’t know. I take off my mask of perfection (which isn’t real anyway), and be the best me that God makes me.
To become real hurts, but it is worth it. Ask the Velveteen Rabbit.