“The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.” ― Anne Morrow Lindbergh
— Drop the Act —
If someone told you to ‘drop the act’, it would seem a bit harsh, right? That is precisely what I was told – to my face – by two people who cared about me.
First, there was Cheryl. We were each married with small children and attended the same church. Our two families spent time at each other’s homes to barbecue and play games.
We’d been friends for over a year when we attended a dinner party hosted by another couple in our church. A babysitter was with my three small children for the evening and I’d been looking forward to the night out.
As was typical in my marriage relationship, my husband chose to chastise me for the duration of our drive to the party over something I had done that displeased him.
We arrived and were ushered into a party already underway. My husband cheerfully headed for the group of guys surrounding the appetizer bar and I walked toward Cheryl, who was standing by herself.
She greeted me with an expression of concern, “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” said I.
“I don’t believe you,” said she.
And she was serious. How could she know things weren’t fine? My marital problems were a private matter, never shared by me. I was oblivious to the fact that she saw my husband and me walk in, like strangers who happened to land on the front steps at the same time.
When I didn’t respond she continued, “You don’t always have to smile and say you’re fine.”
A couple years later, there was Lora, a more casual friend from church, we were in the same carpool for a women’s retreat weekend. There were four of us, and I was the final person to be picked up for the two-hour drive.
I slid into the backseat with Lora, excited about the conference and delighted at the prospect of a mini vacation.
As the car was backed out of my driveway, Lora turned to look at me and said, “You know, no one is as nice as you pretend to be.” Ouch.
I stared at her, bewildered by her comment. She held my gaze without exhibiting any visual sign of discomfort and waited for a response.
As our two pals in the front seat laughed and talked, they did not overhear the remark. Grateful for that, I simply offered Lora a tentative smile as we were pulled into the light-hearted conversation of our companions.
The observations of my two friends were not intended to hurt me, I’m sure, but to challenge me – to be real, to drop the act. But I didn’t get it.
— Stuck in the Script —
My child role as a good girl, nice and compliant, had expanded to include submissive wife. It seemed only right within my frame of reference. Furthermore, it would NEVER have occurred to me that I was inauthentic, or that my lack of authenticity hindered my ability to have healthy relationships.
Operating within the structure of this non-confrontational approach to life invites people with strong personalities, who have influence and power in our lives, to walk all over us.
No doubt, this is what my two friends had observed. Not only in revealing snapshots of my marriage relationship, but also my interaction with a domineering friend who happened to be one of the co-leaders of women’s ministry in our church.
It took a very long time and a heap of heartache before circumstances in my life forced me to see my behavior as inauthentic – and a means of self-sabotage.
— Will the Real Me Please Stand Up —
In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene’ Brown refers to what she calls the ‘wholehearted’ life and presents the following argument: Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.
She explains that wholeheartedness…at its very core, is a combination of vulnerability and worthiness. The ability to face uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, while knowing that I am enough.
She also identifies a couple of vulnerability-avoidance skills:
The good girl
The perform-perfect-please routine…
This is where we can get stuck: not worthy, not enough and we strive to please and be perfect and perform to receive approval and validation as a person – from another person. We hide our true selves because we fear rejection.
Donald Miller, author of Scary Close, offers this observation: It costs personal fear to be authentic, but the reward is integrity, and by that I mean a soul fully integrated, no difference between his act and his actual person. Having integrity is about being the same person on the inside that we are on the outside, and if we don’t have integrity, life becomes exhausting.
Yes, it does.
— The Conundrum —
Webster defines conundrum as a difficult and usually complex problem or puzzle.
On the one hand, I was committed to Christ… the foremost authentic relationship in my life. The other authentic relationships in my life were with my three young children. But they recognized my lack of authenticity with other people. My proclivity to pretend like all was well when they knew, as eyewitnesses inside our four walls, it wasn’t true.
My youngest son couldn’t have been more than seven years old when he confronted me: “Why do you do that? You open the front door when people come over and act like everything is fine when it isn’t!”
He was right and I knew it; but had no idea what to do about it because, on the other hand, I was sold out to my false way of being.
My love and concern for my extended family and for my friends was authentic. But with all of them, without any intention of being deceitful, I presented a convincing front: happy wife (a lie), beautiful children (true), happy (no, hurting) Christian family.
It requires a LOT of energy to pull that off. It certainly was not what the Lord had in mind for me – or for anyone.
My lack of authenticity was a stronghold, a heavy chain around my neck, held in place by lies I believed about myself, about how I was ‘supposed to be’ and fear of exposure.
— Truth and Trust and Rest —
Decades later, when my world came crashing down around me, the role I believed was my lot in life shattered into a million pieces – and, like Humpty Dumpty, could not be put back together again. Praise God.
The circumstances are not necessary to share here, but the life-changing revelations that came out of the shattering are crucial:
Your value is not in your performance or what anyone else thinks of you, but in your identity as an individual, uniquely created by God.
“It is important for me to remember that I am a human being, not a human doing. My worth lies in who I am, not what I can do or how I am seen by others. This is the truth of my existence.”¹
What did the Psalmist, David, have to say about this when he spoke to the Lord in Psalm 139:13-14?
For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.
You, dear reader, are wonderful in the eyes of God – believe it!
You are a child of God, His daughter – Your identity is grounded in Him.
The self we find hidden in Christ is our true self, because Christ is the source of our being and ground of our true identity.²
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ… Romans 8:16
There is no higher calling in this life, no greater position.
In Jesus we have a gentle Teacher, in Jesus we find rest.
Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
My ‘act’ has been retired for some time now, I can’t tell you what a relief it is and how much freedom I have in my life today. Is my life trouble-free? No, that is not what God promised. But I am experiencing joy in deeper relationships. And fulfillment in my relationship with God.
And I don’t have to try so hard – I am learning to be comfortable in my own skin. Do you know what I mean?
Your voice is valuable. Please share your thoughts below, we continue to learn and to grow best in community.
In God’s grace,
1;2David Benner, The Gift of Knowing Yourself
Scripture is quoted from the ESV Bible