Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16
Authenticity with others is tricky, y'all. Can we all just take a deep breath and acknowledge that truth?
It is hard to share with others our thoughts, our feelings, even our struggles. It is so hard. But all the more reason to talk about this.
Now I am going to barely scratch the surface of this topic today, but I just want to address several things
that come into play with trying to cultivate more authenticity with others.
1. The Risks
I think sometimes we have very valid fears about taking off masks and showing others what is underneath. Other times our fears can be a bit irrational, but sometimes, yes, they are valid. When I asked my friends on social media this week about this, I got several really interesting answers:
Judgment- We fear the opinions of others. We wonder if we are truly ourselves or share parts of ourselves with them that they will judge us in some way. And often we turn around and stick a judgment from others onto ourselves, walking around with a label that may or may not be even valid or helpful. The judgments of others on us is inevitable, though. This fear is real because it stings to be judged by another, especially another that does not know you. It stings a lot. But it is also inevitable. We cannot control the attitudes, opinions, or judgments others have of us. Say that again louder for the people in the back. Should we judge others? No. But do we? Yep. All the time. I think this is part of the brokenness that is in humanity. We judge others' motives and thoughts. We judge their actions. Their political views. We judge their decisions. We judge their theology. We judge their relationships. YOU NAME IT. You cannot escape the judgment of others, and neither can I. But you know what you can do? You can let them go. You can choose to toss them aside and focus on the opinions of those that really matter to you. The opinion of my husband means more to me than an aquaintance or even my closest friends. But you can also go back to the truth of the word, because that opinion is the one that actually matters the most. The truth that sets you free. Are the opinions of others lining up with that? If not, maybe those are the opinions you don't internalize and toss aside. Just saying.
Rejection- We fear that others will leave us when they really see who we are. I can't show you my quirks, my flaws, my fears, my feelings. I can't share with you with my beliefs or my values. You won't want me anymore if you see behind this mask. You won't like what you see. OK, let's get real about this, too. It is incredibly painful when you open yourself up to someone, and they reject you in turn. This is so painful. Heartbreaking, even, at times. But y'all, this will happen, too. You won't be everyone's cup of tea. And that's ok. Your personality may not be a good fit for another person. Your beliefs may offend them. They may not like your quirks. And it's ok. Because you have a God that sees you, sees the depths in you, and still loves you. You are His cup of tea, friend. He will never reject you. He won't leave you. He sees, and he remains.
Imperfection- We fear that others will notice that we don't have it all together, that we have flaws. That our life isn't as Pinterest perfect as we make it out to seem. That our tables are not sticky. That there are not toys on our floors. That we don't have arguments with our friends or spouses or kids. That we love our jobs that we secretly hate. That there is no sin hiding behind the facade of perfection. But isn't this mutual understanding of each other's flaws and imperfections what connects us all in the end? This ability to relate to one another? I know that when someone shows me their flaws, I don't feel so alone in mine. And PS, the only perfect one is Jesus, so why not be real and allow others to see your imperfections? Those imperfections remind us all that we are in this together, and that we all deeply need Jesus.
Betrayal- We fear that if we share something vulnerable with another, they will use it to harm us. To tell someone else, to betray our trust, to belittle us with that knowledge. This happens way too often. It has happened often in my own story, and this is probably the biggest reason why I struggle with authenticity with others today. Because you never know what this person will do with the information you just shared with them. You never know. This is real. I feel like this risk is the heaviest. This one is how walls get put up. But people will let you down, friend. Because they are people. They are not God. They will screw up. And you will let others down, too. We can't control others' responses, only ours. We can choose to take the walls down, let safe people in, hope that they will not betray our trust. But if they do, we can walk toward forgiveness (sometimes a LONG journey), and we can learn more about boundaries and who are our safe people. And we can always go back to the truth that Jesus will not betray us. He will not betray us. He knows what it feels like.
For all the risks, we have to weigh the costs of being authentic with others. Because if we are honest, these things could happen. But if we never take the risk, we may never know genuine connection. And then we may not ever grow or heal. Authenticity is risky. But it's ok. Sometimes it is worth the risk.
2. The Responsibilites
When we share parts of ourselves and take off the masks, I think it is vital to be careful here. Being too cautious can keep you from connection with others, and being too loose can lead to all of those risks and more. Where is the middle?
This is where boundaries come in.
I like to picture it this way:
There are houses that have no fences. To me, this means that your yard is free to walk through. Maybe this means you would even be ok with me coming to your backdoor instead of your front door. There is no boundary here. No fences could also mean that others have more access to take advantage of you, to take what is yours.
And there are houses with large, tall privacy fences. Some are wood. Some are iron. Some are concrete or brick. This means that no one is allowed in this yard. Off limits. No trespassing. Maybe this a means of protection. Or complete privacy. But this is a really strict boundary. It does not say, "Welcome."
I don't think that either of those is completely appropriate (yes, could depend on the situation, but stay with me in this metaphor).
What if we approach authenticity with others like a house with a picket fence?
A picket fence clearly marks the boundary. But it is also communicates that people are welcome. It allows others in, but maybe not all others. It is inviting and warm and kind, but does not allow others to take advantage of the boundary.
Those who you may not trust or feel like you need to keep at arms length probably need to be the ones outside the gate (or not even in the yard). These may be people that have repeatedly hurt you before. Those who have taken advantage of you. These are people that you may say hello to, but you don't tell them how you are really doing. These are people you can (if you want) be kind to, but you don't have to let them in. They have not earned that right.
Those who you like to be around, those with whom you feel you can be yourself (to an extent)...These are people who can be inside the gate. This could be coworkers, aquaintances, bosses, neighbors, people at church, extended family, for example. These are the people that get to know you, but these are not the people with whom you feel comfortable sharing deep things. They get to see you, but they don't really get in. You may have some great conversations with them, and you may do a lot of life with them, but they are not your closest people.
Then there are those are your closest friends and family. These are the ones who get to come in the house. The ones who know your mess, your struggles, your feelings. These are the ones that know what is going on in your life.
One step further, the ones that get to come in your bedroom. Maybe this is God or a counselor or a mentor or your spouse. These are the ones you can go very deep with, and you trust that they will not harm you in the process. Now, those in that circle that are people are not perfect, but the ones allowed in the room are those you trust with your life. You trust that they will do everything in their power NOT to judge or betray or reject you. That they are for you, not against you.
When we open ourselves to others in vulnerable ways, there is risk. Because of that, we must be responsible for how we share, what we share, and whom we share with.
3. The Rewards
When we understand the risks and are responsible with what comes out from behind the mask, the rewards can be so beautiful, friend.
We can experience deep, life-long friendship. We can show others that we are people, too, and become relatable to them. We can know and be known. We can move out of loneliness and hiddenness and maybe even shame. We can move into healing and forgiveness and health.
To know and be known. What an incredible reward that outweighs the risks. What an incredible reward.