My Dear One,
The greatest mistake many people make is failing to learn to live an authentic life. Inauthentic living is a modern spiritual plague that is robbing people of their lives, oftentimes without their full awareness until some crisis brings it into painful clarity.
In different times, it was probably much more natural to live an authentic life. By authentic I mean a life in which you are free of the need to pretend to be someone other than who you are. In small communities where all living was shared living, the same circle of people existed in all of your circles. Who you lived with was who you worked with, worshipped with, socialized with, and engaged politically with.
But today it is shockingly simple to live an inauthentic life. We are able to compartmentalize our life into however many different circles we choose. We can be entirely different things to different people with little conflict much of the time. There can be the “school/work me,” the “family me,” the “friends me,” the “online me,” the “church me,” the me I am with this group of people or that, this place or that, and often those versions of me need not overlap if I don’t want them to.
It is baffling then that on the complete other hand, in some ways people are free now to live authentically in ways like never before. Through the hard-fought battles of democracy, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, etc., people have more freedom than we’ve ever had to be who we are. Previous eras were ripe with oppression (the limitations imposed by others) and suppression (the limitations imposed by ourselves) that kept whole generations of people locked within the constricting bounds of society’s understood norms.
How do we balance these two things, our inability to live authentic lives in the midst of a society in which it would seem we are freer than ever to do so?
I was confronted with this dilemma at a young age. Following my parents’ divorce, I quickly realized that my father and mother were very different. My father, a small-town country boy, had married my mother, a girl from the city. Loving both parents and wanting to please each one, I ended up creating a dual personality. There was the country boy Richie who sang along to “Simple Man” by Charlie Daniels with by dad in his pickup truck and the city boy Richie who liked getting dressed up and going to the symphony to listen to "Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor" by Tchaikovsky with my mom. I only employed the version of me I wanted to with each parent. Only my little sister, who was with me in both places, was the wiser and she kept my secret well.
This worked for me until I became a teenager. At this stage in life, we each begin to explore who we are independent of our parents. I knew who (I thought) they wanted me to be. But who did I want to be? How was I willing (or unwilling) to disappoint each of my parents in my embrace of the answer to that question? Every child, at some level, has to go through this struggle.
And as we mature and enter into adult romantic relationships, this work is brought to the fore again. In all but the most loving, accepting relationships, we are quite often faced with the reality that who we are is not the same person as who our significant other wants us to be - or actually needs us to be. We have a sense that we are incomplete and unbalanced people and we expect that in “two becoming one flesh” we will be made whole. This is an impossible expectation however as only the divine is perfect enough to complete us, not another human being. All two human beings can learn to do is to love and accept one another for who we are: broken, imperfect, and beautiful none-the-less.
And yet out of love we might commit to trying to be who that other person needs us to be. We might try to bend our personality in another direction, and for a time we might succeed. This effort is born out of true love for the other. We see they are in need, we care about them and want to meet that need so they do not suffer. The problem is, we cannot take away another person’s suffering. They can only let go of it themselves. And so it is a fool’s journey and in the process we sabotage not only their prospects of peace but our own.
This work never ends. We will, throughout our lives, have people who hope and expect us to be someone different than we are. The question is, who gets to write my story - me or someone else? And if I choose me, will I write it according to my own heart or will I write it based on my limited perception of someone else’s heart?
It comes down to authenticity. You are called and created to be no one but you. And only you have the right to determine who you are.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27). The word “hate” is shocking coming from Jesus’ lips. And perhaps that effect is intended. But it often means we dismiss this teaching out of hand. We will not choose to hate those we love and we cannot imagine Jesus asking us to do so. A better translation I believe is to “love less.” If we are to follow The Way, it will require us to give allegiance to this more authentic way of life over all our other allegiances, as commendable as they may be.
Are we willing to live an authentic life, even if it requires us to disappoint others?, Jesus is asking. Are we willing to carry that kind of cross? As he says elsewhere, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25).
Are we willing to let go of our inauthentic ways of being in order to embrace more authentic ways? Are we willing to disappoint others’ expectations for our life so that we may embrace the life God has actually given us? Are we willing to bear the persecution that will come as a result?
Most won’t go that far. But for those brave enough to do so, they will at last find that in embracing their own life they can finally be loved for who they actually are in all its perfect imperfection ... and that the life they sought can finally be found.
following The Way,
This Week's Elder: Brene Brown
First of all, my apologies to Brene for calling her an "elder." Remember I am using this term to refer to the spiritually enlightened wisdom teachers of our generation and generations past! Having said that, I can think of no one in the last twenty years who has contributed in greater degree to our collective understanding of living a life of authenticity than Brene Brown. In this week's video, she talks about "courage made flesh" and how that's connected in a deep way to our call to tell our whole story. Click the image below to launch the video in a new window.
Note: this video is courtesy of The Work of the People, the single best source I know for films of our generation's greatest wisdom teachers reflecting on life and faithfulness.
And if you haven't seen Brene's widely acclaimed TED videos, you really should. You can view them here and here.
Suggested Reading: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
If you are new to Brene's work, I'd suggest you start with Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Question of the Week
Brene talks about our "orphaned" stories contain our worthiness and our wholeness. She says we either own our story or we stand outside of it and hustle for our own worthiness. What might God be calling you to embrace about who you are in your journey to wholeness? How could owning your own story free you to more fully love others? Offer your own reflections in the comments below.