Last week we talked about the goal of aiming for authenticity – to build bridges and grow stronger, healthier relationships by sharing our true selves with one another.
Today we’re talking about ways to discover our true selves, and the three places we can go when looking for directions.
Looking inward, I discover who I say I am.
My strengths and weaknesses, feelings and beliefs, based on my personal experience. It’s a narrow perspective, but it does give me necessary raw material and some great information to get me started.
Looking upward, I discover who God says I am.
I bring everything I know about myself before Him, lay it all down, and wait expectantly for Him to say something like, “I can work with this!” Then together, we sort through the truth and the fiction, and He gently teaches me who I am in His eyes.
Looking inward and upward help me begin to understand my true self. But ultimately, we find the answer to the question, “Who am I?” by looking outward. It’s here, in our interactions with others, where our authenticity is challenged to grow strong and mature.
Looking outward, I discover who I am with others.
Connecting with others is necessary for authenticity to take root and thrive. Why? Because we aren’t tempted to play a part when no one is watching. It’s only when we step into the scene with others and begin responding to them and their reactions that we come face to face with the temptation to pretend. Only by standing our ground do we learn to overcome that temptation and discover greater depths about ourselves.
So how do we learn to live in this tension between conforming to the crowd and remaining authentic? How do we engage with the life-giving interactions of being part of a community without getting lost in the crowd? I’ve found it helps to pay attention to three important things:
Haven’t we heard since we were children that we shouldn’t let others influence our behaviors? What parent among us hasn’t been tempted to ask their child, “If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you jump off after him?”
But the right kind of influence can be a good thing. It can help us uncover deeper truths about ourselves and move us toward becoming the people we were created to be. Think of David and the prophet Nathan. When confronted with the truth about his destructive behavior, David allowed himself to be influenced by a godly man that he respected. (2 Samuel 12:1-13) Nathan’s influence helped David see how far he had strayed from the man God knew him to be and helped guide him back to the right path. Like David, we can choose to be influenced by the right people.
You might think insight is something that comes in moments of quiet, solitary reflection. And often that’s true. But we can learn a lot about our inner lives by staying curious about the ways we respond to others.
The next time you feel the need to agree or to keep your true opinion to yourself, slow down and notice the moment. Ask yourself a few questions. Why did the little alarm go off in your head? Is that a sinking feeling in your stomach? Or a delighted glittery feeling? Are you feeling uncomfortable because you’ve stepped over the line into pretending? Or are you feeling inspired because you just made a new realization about yourself? Think of these moments as clues to better understanding your beliefs and ideas. Pray about your observations and ask God for insight into any changes He wants you to make.
We can practice authenticity in any crowd. But for authenticity to take root, grow and change us, we need to feel safe. Just listen to the language of authenticity: taking off our masks, letting down our guard, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. These things can frighten us if we’re not among people we can trust. That’s why authenticity thrives in communities of integrity.
Communities of integrity are filled with people seeking God’s truth together. People who speak the truth in love and offer one another grace and forgiveness. Friends who are committed to authenticity and who understand the delicate art of encouraging without enabling one another. People of integrity make us feel safe as we seek to grow in our authenticity.
Of course, this journey towards authenticity isn’t a purely linear process. (If you’re anything like me, it more closely resembles a tangled ball of yarn!) But if we keep looking in these three directions, we will find the true and authentic self God is calling us to be. Inward and upward to discover our true identity. Then outward where we can practice and grow authenticity with healthy amounts of influence, insight, and integrity.
Next time we’ll talk more about how authenticity moves us forward into the life God has planned for us. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in finding out more about living your most authentic life within a community of safe people, here are two of my favorite books on these topics.
The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner.
Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
How are you practicing authenticity in community with others? Who has encouraged you to let down your guard and share your authentic self with the world?