The comedian Chris Rock once said “when you meet someone for the first time, you ain’t meeting them; you’re meeting their representative.” He got a lot of laughs with that; probably because it’s true.
It is a common practice to try to impress others, or at least put on our best side. Especially when two people meet for the first time. There’s something true in that adage about making a good first impression.
There’s no shame in trying to present ourselves properly to others. The trouble comes when we present someone different than who we truly are. I’ve heard the terms “faker”, “poser”, “wannabe”, “imposter” and “hypocrite” used to describe that behavior.
I’m not throwing stones here. I was very skilled at that very thing, all the time. After a few decades of presenting the “me” that I wanted others to know, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. It is an activity fraught with potential peril. After all, if we’ve impressed someone with our imposter-self, they may want to know us better. Doh! But beyond that, living a lie of who I am made it easier to lie about anything else.
In a recovery meeting long ago, a man said something that helped explain why I had never been comfortable in my own skin. Standing up, he held his hand out chest-high, extended 6 inches from his body; like a handshake. He placed his other hand on his chest. He said the extended hand represented the person he presented to the world, to other people. The hand on his chest represented his true self. The distance between his two hands represented his level of anxiety; the closer his two hands were to each other – that is, the closer his portrayal of himself was to his true self – the less anxiety he had.
It was a sobering moment for me. I finally had a visual to along with the emotional tug-of-ware within me. I wanted to be accepted for who I was but even I wasn’t thrilled with that guy. So I presented someone else instead. Same name, same face, but a more acceptable version of my story.
Among the many excellent gifts I received in recovery was the realization that who I am is who other people need to see. When I presented a down-played or exaggerated version of me, I robbed them of the opportunity to make an accurate decision about further interaction with moi.
Jesus presented as His real self all the time. I’m sure He had no anxiety about who people thought He was, or even who they wanted Him to be. In His example we see some people connect and engage with Him, investing time and interaction with Him. But most folks either ignored Him or wanted to kill Him.
Most likely you and I are not going to be killed if we present our true selves to others. Possible but not likely. We are very probably going to be ignored by many, and perhaps even insulted or assaulted in extreme cases by a few. But if we are authentic, we are responding to a soundless scream from the mass of humanity:
“PLEASE! Somebody show me something I can actually believe in!”
This last couple of years has been a repetitive hammering home of my identity in God. I don’t recall asking for it but I needed it. To be absolutely positive of who I am, and Whose I am, has required quite a bit of hammering. Some things just take a while for me to grasp.
There’s an extension to this identity/authentic-self concept: it is that we should be who we were made to be. To deny who I am is to defy God’s wisdom in creating me to be… me. I am unique to Him, created for unique purposes that only He must be pleased with. It is not only good for me to be authentic and avoid a life of anxiety (and all the related health problems), it is my praise to God to be the authentic me. How can others see what God has done in me if I never tell them what I was like before I met Him? To think of robbing God of that glory makes my heart hurt.
That’s not to say I should go around telling everyone everything. That would be making it about me. I’m not the miracle-worker here, God is. To speak much about what power and grace and generosity God has poured out on this ragamuffin… that’s a privilege. Besides I am only one example. I know many others. God calls whom He chooses, and He heals whom He wants. His glory is woven through His sovereignty like threads of gold.
I decided to write this post because when it is necessary for me to tell someone about my past, sometimes I am tempted to soften the hard edges; to make is less… awful. I was a frequent abuser of the word “just” in a past life. “It was just a thought!” “I was just going 10 miles over the limit.” “I just didn’t think it would be a big deal.” “It was just a 12-pack. Sheesh.” It doesn’t play well when I attempt to minimize, rationalize or justify.
No offense to Sinatra but I don’t only “gotta be me”. I gotta be the me that God created me to be.
Father, I know you didn’t look away during the moments when the hard edges of my life were happening. You look at me in the totality of my life, not just the good or the bad moments. You knew I would one day fall on my knees and surrender to Your love, and that was Your desire. It was glorious!
My best doesn’t impress You, and my worst doesn’t drive You away. You are more powerful, more beautiful, more loving than that. I may never see me as You do, but I see You more clearly when I’m not focusing on myself.
You move me to tears of gratitude. You shake my false foundations until I rely only on You. And You love me right out of my fear and anxiety. For all You’ve done, for Who You are, surely I can be my true self.