At my dear friend John’s funeral, I was brought to tears as people highlighted his kind, generous spirit. The word authentic was repeatedly used to describe him and how he lived his life. What a legacy to be known as a genuinely authentic person; someone who knows what it means to be real.
Although my friend lived as an ambassador for kindness and authenticity, living an authentic life can be hard. Being authentic requires a level of vulnerability which is scary and seems impossible when there is so much division, pain, and uncertainty.
But there is hope for us to put our walls down and be real; to live authentically:
- Living an authentic life is possible when we place our trust in God and not our circumstances.
- Living an authentic life is possible when we are defined by who we are in Christ.
- Living an authentic life is possible when we believe we are created for a purpose and God has a plan for our life.
- Living an authentic life is possible when our mission is to shine the light of Christ and love others.
What Does Being Your Authentic Self Mean?
When I wonder what does being your authentic self mean, I am reminded of a story from several years ago when I accompanied my husband on a trip to San Francisco.
As I window shopped, a young man approached and lured me (yes, lured me!) into a retail store. For the next 45 minutes, I felt trapped and was almost convinced that my “wrinkly face” could be saved with his wonder cream.
He applied the wrinkle removing cream and blew on my face. I waited expectantly as it dried and, voila, my wrinkles almost vanished. There were a couple of problems with the magic cream; I felt as if I had super glue artificially holding my skin down and it cost $500. It was definitely not authentic.
Sure enough, when the cream was washed away so was the magic wrinkle remover. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with a little wrinkle cream. The problem was that the product was not real; it was claiming something that it could not deliver. I also felt worse about myself than when I first encountered the wrinkle-removing king!
How had I started to believe in this magic claim? I was feeling vulnerable at that moment and had been led to believe that artificial may be better than the real thing. (although a few fewer wrinkles sound like a good idea!)
After this encounter, I started thinking, what is living an authentic life versus artificial living? What is real, genuine, and true, and why is it so refreshing to see those qualities in a person? How can I be the authentic self God created me to be, and how can I find out what is real and true for my life? How can I be ok with what that looks like in me? How can I be confident enough to be real with others?
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Psalm 139:14 NIV
When we are our authentic selves, we are true to how we were originally created. Our pain, struggles, and mistakes don’t define us and we see ourselves through the eyes of Christ as a wonderfully, uniquely made people. We can be real because we accept who we are.
“It’s the real thing” this was Coca-Cola’s slogan back in the day, when I was a kid. I’m almost certain their point wasn’t really about metaphysics, as much as it was about authenticity recognizing that the longing for authenticity is primal . . . that on some level we all just want to know what’s real what’s genuine: the first step to being authentic is being honest with yourself to own the fact that there are aspects of you that you’d rather not have exposed.
But we shouldn’t allow social etiquette to inhibit us from being redemptively vulnerable with one another which is where you share your genuine struggles as a form of truth telling that invites others to share their struggles, creating a safe place for bearing one another’s burdens.
In Acts 17:27, 28 Paul says, “seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for In him we live and move and have our being”.
Therefore, because our existence is contingent on God, our ability to be real and authentic is inseparable from our relationship with God. In this sense, our longing for authenticity is a longing for God. So, as we are being conformed to the image of Christ it could very well be said that we are becoming more real . . .more authentic.”
What does being your authentic self mean? As Christians, “Being conformed to the image of Christ” is the title of our life journey, our autobiography. As we take small, daily steps toward this goal we become free, liberated, and unrestrained.
What a feeling of release to our souls! Jesus becomes the air we breathe. His Words become the light for our journey. The Holy Spirit becomes our guide, and suddenly living an authentic life seems possible!
How can You Live an Authentic Life?
It is exhausting to always wear different emotional masks. When our identity is in Christ there is the freedom to live authentically without hiding behind ingenuine facades.
A friend of mine told me a story about an encounter she had that challenged her thoughts on living an authentic life.
Sue was traveling and ran across some old acquaintances in the airport. She said the family looked as if they had just stepped out of a magazine. As Sue stood there feeling a little self-conscious in her comfortable Target outfit, they proceeded to tell her how awesome they were doing; listing all of their accomplishments and wins.
After they walked off, Sue felt vulnerable and insecure; questioning herself and her choices. As she boarded the plane, she was surprised by her husband who had used their airline points to upgrade them to first class. Sue’s friends looked pretty surprised as they passed her on their way to coach.
It is fine to look nice and highlight the positives in our life, but it becomes a problem when self-elevation becomes our focus and consumes us. That is not what it means to be real!
When we are genuine it inspires others to be more genuine. When we wear masks, it leaves others feeling inferior, and leaves us feeling exhausted and often upstaged. This is not walking in the freedom of authentic living.
Some of you may be thinking, “If you knew my ‘real thing’ you would not want me to be authentic. The mask-wearing, fake me is a lot better than what’s inside.”
We all have work to do, but being transformed starts with the desire to be more authentic and is followed by making changes in our thoughts and choices. We have an opportunity to push “reset” at any time.
One of my friends would often say, “That’s just the way I am” to cover a mistake or bad decision. But that’s not the best way to discover how can you live an authentic life. We are called to be fruit- bearers and that requires growth.
Growth comes from our core, from our souls. To get started, we need to learn to be honest with ourselves.
Mark 4:10-20 The Message
“When they were off by themselves, those who were close to him, along with the Twelve, asked about the stories. He told them, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom””you know how it works. But to those who can’t see it yet, everything comes in stories, creating readiness, nudging them toward receptive insight.
“The farmer plants the Word. Some people are like the seed that falls on the hardened soil of the road. No sooner do they hear the Word than Satan snatches away what has been planted in them.
“And some are like the seed that lands in the gravel. When they first hear the Word, they respond with great enthusiasm. But there is such shallow soil of character that when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
“The seed cast in the weeds represents the ones who hear the kingdom news but are overwhelmed with worries about all the things they have to do and all the things they want to get. The stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it.
“But the seed planted in the good earth represents those who hear the Word, embrace it, and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams.”
As Christians, we have been given insight into God’s Kingdom, but we still need to walk out our faith intentionally in order to grow closer to God and be real.
In order to “produce a harvest beyond our wildest dreams,” we need to be rooted in our faith in Christ as we grow.
What Prevents us from Living an Authentic Life?
What prevents us from living an authentic life is a great question. It seems simple, but in reality, it requires great confidence in our identity. Authentic living is a better way to approach life but is not always easy. Here are 4 guidelines to help us experience a fuller, more complete real life.
Living an Authentic Life is Possible when we are not Distracted
One day I could not find my car keys. Since losing things frustrates me, I tend to put my car keys in the same place. I assumed someone else was involved in the mystery. My daughter casually mentioned that she had borrowed my car keys and put them in a pink bag.
We searched high and low and an hour later, found the keys(not in the pink bag!) She was distracted when she put the keys down, and suddenly the whole household became distracted.
- Sometimes we are distracted because we need to redefine ourselves; program a new course or reevaluate our purpose.
- Sometimes we are distracted because we need to be noticed. My daughter would call out, “Look at me mom I can almost do a split.” We run around doing, serving, striving, and inside we are screaming, “Look at me! I can almost do a split!”
- Sometimes we are distracted because it is better than facing what stands in front of us. Keeping busy allows us to not face the mountain in our midst. Avoidance can work in the short term but is not a formula that is sustainable for authentic living.
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.”
Psalm 46:1-2 NLT
I have been working on slowing down or stopping to take a look at what is distracting me.
When I was teaching my daughter to drive, she would pause at stop signs instead of stopping. It was terrifying, and she almost caused several accidents. As I corrected her, she said, “I am sorry mom. What do you want me to do?” and I replied, “I just want you to stop!”
Are we stopping to look around and see what God is saying and calling us to do? What are we allowing to distract us so our good seed is snatched up?
Living an Authentic Life is Possible when we don’t feel Discouraged
Sometimes we feel discouraged and lose our confidence or enthusiasm in our spiritual walk. We are “overwhelmed by life.”
- We are discouraged because we have hit a snag or two and feel as though we can’t take it anymore. When Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble,” He was not kidding, but He finishes His statement with, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
When I was new in my faith, I had a job surrounded by many Christians and thought it would be a perfect work environment. But my unrealistic expectations of others led me astray, and I lost confidence in my faith. My shallow soil allowed for the initial joy found in Christianity to wear off and I was left disappointed and discouraged.
Our trust in Christ can encourage us to move forward. People will always let us down. Focusing on Him can move us past struggles that make us feel overwhelmed and hopeless.
- We are discouraged because we can’t figure out our purpose.
“There are natural born leaders and followers. Genetically conferred traits such as outgoingness, intelligence, a will to dominance:do correlate with those who assume leadership positions.”
However, the same article states,
“Studies suggest that ultimately our upbringing and experiences matter most in developing innate tendencies. In other words, leaders and followers can be made:” Situational Leaders are those people who make up the majority of the population. Most of them don’t even feel like leaders—until they find the right situation that fits their passion and their strengths.”
“Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything””encores to the end of time.”
Peter 4:10 MSG
Who do we follow? Why? Typically, we follow someone we trust, who shows us compassion, is stable/safe and offers hope and guidance. In what “situations” can we provide these same characteristics that will lead us to a more authentic life?
Living an Authentic Life is possible when we are not Defeated
In life, we sometimes have high hopes in a situation or in a person and are let down. We have been, defeated in a battle, and left feeling deflated. Discouragement creeps in and can lead to periods of self-pity, questioning of our faith, and ultimately depression.
For a season, I was raising 6 children. (3 Biological,1 Adoptee & 2 Foster) In 2012, one of our foster children returned to their family. In 2016 my son left for college and my other foster child decided to leave our home. I felt defeated, and confused, and was headed toward depression.
I had not lost confidence in my faith or spiritual walk but felt like I had 50 pounds of weight on each foot and was trying to walk up a hill. Being defeated in battle happens, but many of the battles are small ones. This was huge. I felt “strangled” by life.
But one day this scripture spoke to me:
“Blows that hurt cleanse away evil”
Proverbs 20:30 NKJV
Although I didn’t understand why certain events happened, God can always bring beauty from ashes in our soul. God was purifying me as I walked through an uncomfortable chapter of my conformed-to-Christ autobiography.
This chapter has not been one of my favorite seasons, but I had to choose how to walk through it and eventually grew in strength and in my faith.
Living an Authentic Life is Possible when we don’t feel Defiled
When we feel as though we are walking around with a load of mistakes we can’t let go of, it is hard to live authentically. But we all mess up. Jesus loves us anyway and calls us His Beloved!
Several years ago, I visited an orphanage in Guatemala. It was a beautiful orphanage that was thoughtful and well run. After spending a week with the children, I noticed some of the children had runny noses and that there was little hand soap to wash up. I mentioned to the director that the hand soap was running low.
It was just an oversight; they had been so overwhelmed by the needs of the children, a focus on clean hands was overlooked.
“The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord:”
Psalm 24:4-5 NIV
Sometimes we overlook the need to wash up or confess. If our hands are dirty, it is hard to live with a pure heart and our ability to bear fruit is compromised. Authentic living needs to come from being firmly rooted in Christ so our fruit is a natural growth of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
What germs or idols do we have on our hands? Unforgiveness, pride, covetous, self-adulation, gossip?
The thing is, mistakes never go away; in other words, we never become completely sinless. As we journey with Christ, we get better at recognizing when the Holy Spirit reveals our struggles and learn to identify what He is teaching us.
I recently visited a restaurant and the waiter was very excited about their new tap water. He said it was now being triple-purified. Wow, that’s pretty clean water!
Jesus offers us the same opportunity…our souls can be triple purified. All we have to do is ask and embrace our new identity in Christ which makes living an authentic life possible.
“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying,
‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it””there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.”
Luke 15:7 MSG
What Does it Mean to Be Real?
I hope these stories and Biblical truths have helped you envision what it means to be real. Living an authentic life is possible when we embrace our identity in Christ and are encouraged to embrace the mission God has created for us.
It is exhausting to not be real with ourselves or others and we miss out on opportunities designed specifically for us.
“I believe all of us desire at the core to be loved for who we really are…even as we are in process of discovering and being freed to be who we really are. I surely do. I wonder if it comes to us in later years after we’ve come to realize over time that facades have never brought us the life and love we’ve longed for.God’s been orchestrating ‘aha’ moments for us to come to our senses and begin to see ourselves and love ourselves – shadow and shimmer – all of it…as God loves us and loves all others. So much more freedom and so much more peace has come for me.”Susie Scarborough
At first, learning to be real may feel unnatural and scary. It is hard to be vulnerable, but if we stay rooted in Christ through reading the Bible, prayer, and strong relationships, a better altogether life awaits.
Have you discovered the joy of living an authentic life like my friend John? I would love to hear from you in the comments!
“Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Romans 6:4 NASB
In memory of John, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”