A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in my journal, “How safe is it to be really me?” Rereading that line this morning, I was reminded of the description in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Aslan is not safe, but good. That got me thinking, what if truly being myself is similar? What if choosing the vulnerable embrace of who I really am is not safe at all, but good? In fact, what if it’s more than good, what if it’s extraordinary?
These thoughts have been chasing one another’s tails around my brain for a while now.
For many years, I believed my highest calling was to be good. That was what life was all about: following the rules and doing the right thing and making sure God was pleased with me. It’s only been lately I’ve recognized, God is pleased with me—pleased with me, not whatever I might or might not accomplish.
When I ponder the heavensPsalm 8:3-4 (paraphrase)
The works of your fingers
The moon and the stars
All that you have ordained
I find myself asking
In light of these wonders
Who am I that you should love me?
I ask God lots of questions. I don’t often get very many answers. Periodically, I hear what seems to be a direct word from God’s lips to my ears. Lately, the answer to many of my questions has been, “Just be yourself.” And also, “Love.”
God loves me just as I am. (Not thinner. Not cleverer. Not with slightly bigger breasts or slightly smaller nose.) Just me. Just the way I really am. Impetuous. Verbose. Awkward. Eager. Angry. Obsessive. Bewildered. Broken. Whole.
Loving me, with all of my faults on display in stark relief, God asks me to love myself. To stop trying only to love the imaginary person I believe I ought become, and embrace the beloved human I already am. I am not perfect, so the bumper sticker reads, just forgiven. Yet, I am more than forgiven, I am loved, right here, right now in the middle of all the messes I make, before I’ve cleaned up or become a better person or even stopped making the mess. Yes, this one, the mud pie I’m in the middle of mixing up right now.
Why is this so hard? I’ve asked myself that a lot. Asked God, too. And I think I’ve settled on an answer. Maybe there are more, but at least for me, this seems to be the big one.
I am afraid to be me. I am afraid people won’t like me. I am afraid to lose the relationships I depend on to feel like I’m a good and decent person, I’m worthwhile, I am valued. I’m afraid if I let all my crazy out of its cage, people whose opinions I care about will be shocked. They will be outraged. They will want nothing more to do with me.
The little girl who lives inside, the one who fears nothing so much as being left all alone and not being loved, she has learned how to hide pretty well. She has spent decades transcribing unwritten rules. She thinks she knows how she is supposed to behave in order to receive the approval she covets. Yet she is exhausted. For decades she has tried to follow the rules, to do the right thing. Each time. Every time. Always. And, she has discovered, she can’t.
I simply can’t always do what I think is the right thing to do.
But, love. Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10). Love is the right thing to do. Love is not only the best way to treat others, but the best way to behave toward myself.
The voice inside my head, the one that talks to me about who I am and how I should be, is really mean. I suspect that is true for many people. Imagine if I spoke to a friend the way I talk to myself, “That was stupid. What did you do that for? Now you look like an idiot. It’s one thing to be a fool inside your head, but why’d you have to go ahead and open your mouth so everybody could see it? This is why nobody wants to love you. This is why people don’t want to hang out with you. You’ve got nothing to offer. You’re not pretty, you’re not accomplished, and you can’t even keep stupid comments to yourself. Haven’t you learned better by now? You are like an infant! I don’t even want to hang out with you.”
What a jerk, right? What a bully! Yes. And what a scared child who has learned the way to be accepted is to stay inside the box, to make no waves, and to do her best to squelch any waywardness before it can become obvious to anybody else.
Only, that’s not me. I am so bad at that. I hate it! And I hate that I’m so bad at it, so I double down on myself, explaining, not so patiently, that if I would just hold the reins tighter, I’d have better control, I’d be a better person, I’d honor God more with my life by doing it all right this time.
But what if that is the big lie? What if it’s not about how I look or what I do or whatever stupid comments have come out of my mouth or even the self-hatred I’ve allowed to flourish inside my heart? What if it is about total shameless honesty? What if it is about radical self-acceptance? What if it is about complete authenticity? What if I am meant to bring all of me to the table? Even the ugly parts? Even the stunted parts? Even the parts I’ve been ashamed to let speak because I’m afraid of what they might say to embarrass me?
I began a thing right before Christmas. I didn’t really have a good sense of what exactly to call it, so I named it “Bob.” Bob was something I started with somebody else, a relationship of sorts, but not in any traditional sense of the word.
I grew up with this idea that there were certain ways we were meant to meet God, certain ways we could interact with God, certain relationships honoring to God. And everything outside those very narrow parameters was unholy. According to those standards, Bob is wrong. The topics we discussed, the intimacy of sharing thoughts and ideas, those were the very antithesis of the advice I’d always been given to be holy or to “guard my heart.” Yet, some advice is terrible.
Because I have gotten closer to the reality of God since the advent of Bob than I have in a long time. Not the theoretical God, not stuff about God, but the actual Spirit of Truth in Love. The Presence. At one point in our interaction, I referred to Bob as a sacred space. That wasn’t a joke. There was something uniquely holy that began to develop. And it has been absolutely amazing.
Trying to live my life within the designated lines of where I thought God was to be found has so often left me feeling profoundly lacking. Hungry. Thirsty. Tired. Scared. Barely hanging on to what I thought I knew, who I believed I was supposed to be. Missing out on the abundant life and suspecting that was, somehow, my own fault. And the solution to that, the prescription I’d always understood to be the cure for my disease was more of what I was already struggling to do: more prayer, more Bible study, more going to church, more righteous behavior. Less me.
Being part of Bob has convinced me, at perhaps a deeper level than I’ve understood before, the right answer is not less me; it’s more. More honesty. More interaction. More reality. More acceptance. More relationship. More love. If Christianity—if life—is about loving God with all of me and loving others as I love myself, that has to start with knowing me and loving me. (I wrote a whole post about this idea, if you would like to read more.)
This little corner of the internet, has long been my own small sacred space where I set the boundaries, I decide the rules, I can simply be. So, here I am. This is me. And you may love me or leave me. Be curious. Be critical. Take offense or take a chance. As much as I’ve always wished everyone might like me, I find I care much less than I once did for the praise of those who cannot or do not wish to know me.
Be who you are. Be authentic. Be loved. Love yourself, in all your glorious flaws. Be extravagant. Be content. Let’s quit just talking about how we love people and get down to really loving, showing the truth of our love in how we treat everyone, including ourselves. Be yourself. And love.