Dear Authenticity

Watches. Jerseys. Jeans. Car parts. Autographs. Mexican Food.

What do these things have in common?

This assortment of ideas all appeared when I typed the word ‘authentic’ into Google this week.

I didn’t know what was in store when I started looking for a definition of the word. Authenticity is a bit of a buzzword these days. We want our jobs, our writing, our websites and our social media feeds to feel “authentic” to who we are. Maybe, we mean that we want to be genuine, or transparent, or whole in the way we present ourselves to the world.

After more Googling, I found a more satisfying definition.

The word authentic literally means to be made in a way that faithfully resembles the original.

I love that.

To be made in a way that faithfully resembles the original.

What does it mean for us to resemble the original, whole, genuine selves we were each made to be?

As a recovering perfectionist, I often struggle to believe that my authentic self is worth bringing to the world. I struggle to believe that my ideas are worth sharing, that my voice is worth hearing, that my heart has something to offer to those around me just as it is.

I have often felt God inviting me to contribute or speak up or lead but then I battle the belief that I have to address my bad habits and get more sleep and look nicer and altogether clean up my act before I can be effective.

Being authentic is harder for me than I’d like to admit. 

What might it look like for me — for us —to fight the temptation to manage our appearance and practice true authenticity? To explore the beautiful mystery of being made in God’s love and image, and thereby share our true selves? To faithfully resemble the original?

A couple weekends ago, I was in a room of young professionals, and we were studying the concept of calling – what it looks like when God gives a person a specific calling to do something for his people at an exact time in history. Together we read the story of David’s call in 1 Samuel.

At this time, Saul had been ruling the nation of Israel, and the Lord told Samuel that a new king was going to take his place.  In 1 Samuel 16 the Lord talks to Samuel about who will lead, and he says, “Go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”

Samuel arrives in Bethlehem. He finds Jesse. And they look at the lineup of future kings Jesse’s oldest sons.

These are men of stature, you might say. Tall, experienced, accomplished.

But they are not the ones chosen to lead. David the youngest, skinniest, lowliest by all accounts is the chosen leader.

And in 1 Samuel 16:7 we are given one explanation: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Let us take clues from David’s calling. Following God faithfully isn’t about appearance, but about heart. It isn’t about showing off our best self but slowly having the bravery to share our one, true, authentic self.

God calls not the likely leader, but the authentic leader.

In that same group of young professionals, last weekend, our leader gave us this analogy.

When it comes to leading, we all want to be Jesse’s older sons. The ones that look the part, that have the stature and the accolades. The ones with the right timing, the right outfit, and the right social media campaign. We all want to be the story’s superheroes.

But what if what we actually need are more leaders that resemble the men and women behind the masks?

The everyday Bruce Waynes and Clark Kents, not the batmen or the super women.

What if we believe that change comes not from the superhero, but from the everyday hero.

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

To practice authenticity, and fight the temptation to clean up our appearance first, I’ve written down these reminders to take with us :

  • Look at the heart. I know how tempting it is to focus on cleaning up your appearance, or waiting for the right timing, or having the right experience to lead well. But the truth is that we already serve and lead other people today in our homes, communities, schools and jobs. Look at your own honest heart. Look at the hearts of others. Who is someone that you already interact with who could use a friend this week? How could sharing a piece of your imperfect story give someone else permission to be imperfect, too?
  • Offer grace to ourselves. I told you I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I struggle with this. But we must remove the masks of perfection, busyness, speed or cleverness. God does not expect perfection from us; we don’t need to demand it of ourselves. In giving ourselves grace, we are better equipped to extend that grace to others. And we allow God to be our sufficiency in weakness.
  • Celebrate our roles as the the everyday superheroes of the world. Whatever your sphere of influence, steward it well. Commit to your daily tasks and close relationships. Believe that your everyday faithfulness will powerfully and beautifully affect those around you.

God calls us to be authentic  as leaders, friends, supporters. Why?

Because authenticity  is a practice in faithfully resembling the original. Discovering and sharing our most essential selves, made beautiful and complete in God’s image.