Are You Free to Be Yourself?

Like many aspiring writers, I have a blog. I wasn’t contributing to it regularly for several months until recently when I was inspired by the idea of freedom. I started thinking how a blog is the perfect place to explore things. It’s like a journal of your thoughts that you open up and say, “Here. Have a look.” I’ve said before it’s like taking your shirt off in front of the class. It’s not natural. Bloggers are all closet exhibitionists.

Some people do it because they’ve caught the fame bug. I did that for a while, but then I stopped. I didn’t like being famous. I was no Ashton Kutcher, but it got to where I was strutting around the kitchen telling my kids to bow lower when they asked for more juice. Now I’m just a normal guy. Though I still sometimes make my kids address me as “My Supreme Emanence.”

Recently, though, I’m wondering what’s wrong with me. It seems the whole world wants to be famous and special and do all sorts of horrible things to themselves for 15 minutes of fame. Don’t I want to be known—be special? I did enjoy parts of being popular. It was just certain responsibilities I didn’t enjoy—like enduring all the people who only wanted more from me because I was famous.

When I was young, being the oldest of three pastor’s kids brought unwanted attention (it’s all coming together for you now, isn’t it?). I couldn’t do anything without worrying about setting a bad example. Now it’s my power as a book editor to wield the almighty deal at writers’ conferences. Of course, my kids could tell them they don’t really want to come under my authority. But I don’t enjoy being known, because it’s restrictive. You’re expected to play a role, act a certain way, to fit the expectations placed on you. And sometimes you don’t want to be boxed into that. (I’m not talking to all you bloggers. You keep it reigned in.)

Being known, even within the small circles I run in, has revealed something about the freedom to be myself. Being who God made me—finding it and holding on to it—is what we’re all really after, isn’t it? It can be hard to hold onto when life comes grabbing at you with  endless demands. But it’s that ineffable quality editors look for in a writer’s pitch, what we see in our favorite actors and actresses, the annoying answer to what makes some people stand out and others fade into the woodwork: We love real people. Authentic characters who are unashamedly themselves, possessing  sparkle and  hope. A hope within us that we too can be like them.

I think this is because deep down we know the truth. The whole world is full of phonies. Holden Caufield was right! Parenthood, culture, social groups, even our faith, every relationship requires some level of artifice. We may call it compromise or even respect, but we augment or downplay our personalities accordingly. We’re each pressured to adopt certain identities and assimilate into them appropriately, and even when the relationship is unhealthy, we get suckered into thinking this is how we have to be to fit in, to be loved, to get by in life.

Actually, there’s very little difference between this way of thinking and belonging to a cult. The major distinction is that we’re the ones doing the mind control on ourselves by accepting limitations on who God made us to be. We should reassure our inner teenagers that God provides our true identities, and stop trying to be people we’re not. For example, I don’t fit the shoes of my father. I never could. My kids will just have to blow their noses on their therapists’ shoulders someday. I have to be who God made me, no more, no less.

I don’t mean to sound snotty. I’m simply frustrated by the inhibitions so many Christians seem to have. Uniformity isn’t what God expects, but so many people try to fit molds to gain approval. Even if it isn’t the promise of being wildly famous, people often settle for so much less than who they really are. Many are hopelessly searching for an identity to latch on to. Why can’t they just be who they are? What are they afraid of? Rejection? I’ve known some famous people and some people who are authentically themselves, and they don’t achieve total authenticity because they’re trying really hard. If that was the case, sooner or later, the act would slip (see Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, et al). There’s no skill or art to being real.

The bottom line is, our truest selves are called forth from within us as we keep company with Jesus. He is the one who brings us to life and encourages us to help one another discard our false selves. Jesus is our only true reference for being real! I can’t accept others’ rules and roles for one reason: because I’m this person! And you’re that person! So trying to fit what you think someone else is looking for is plain stupid.  You is what people need to see, whether they know it or not yet. Try it for a while and see.

I’ll promptly take back this claim if someone can produce someone who’s experiencing more freedom by fitting a particular mold. There could be a special case out there somewhere. But I doubt it. It may not seem sophisticated or uber-spiritual. But the innocence and genuineness of your uninhibited, Christ-directed self is the most beautiful you you can be.

This is the best lesson I have to offer on finding real freedom, the one I hope to pass on to my kids someday, once they’ve recovered. Those who are learning to be their true selves in every relationship will continue to make us smile and amaze us with their genius. And if you decide to live this way, and you find you’re becoming better known in the process, don’t worry about it. It’s a price God shows you how best to pay.

©2009, Mick Silva

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