Authenticity is so hard. I often struggle to be completely real with people. This is a common struggle that most of us deal with every day. However, sometimes a fear of being genuine reveals deeper insecurities in us. Recently I’ve been discovering that somewhere along my life journey I started believing a lie. A lie that I was only lovable if I presented certain images of myself to people. I remember being a little girl and trying to be as cute as I could so that my siblings and their friends would love me and express their delight in me. As I got older, I would observe different people whom I admired or who I thought were the most loved and I would adopt their mannerisms so that I too could feel lovable. When I received unexpected affection or love from others, I sometimes would think to myself that they must be showing me this love because I had acted in a certain way or shown them a pleasing part of who I am. When I experienced rejection or distance from certain people, I would reflect that I must have been too much of or not enough of something.
These lies have carried through to my young adult life. It’s often an unconscious motivation, but it’s ever so present in me: like a weed that has deep roots. I often catch myself thinking ahead of situations and people that I will be encountering and the way that I plan to behave or speak so that I’ll be accepted or approved of. When I’m spending time with friends I find myself unconsciously trying to be what I think will win me their affection. When it comes to romance, I have exhausted myself by constantly fighting to be the image that I think is the most attractive. In my university courses last year, if studying with others, I found myself being terrified of appearing unequipped or dumb to my peers. This fear drove me to something like performance anxiety and would prevent me from even doing what I knew how to do (silly, but true).
This is not only a tremendous amount of pressure to put on oneself, but it can create deep anxiety because being perfect is something we simply cannot attain, and to think that we need to present perfect images of who we are in order to be loved can only lead to frustration and failure. This lack of authenticity can also block us from having raw connections with others and forming deeper relationships.
However, a few Sundays ago, I re-encountered Jesus’ perfect love for my imperfect self. I was deep in a daydream. Daydreaming is a really bad habit that I often fall into during mass. This particular Sunday I was quite distracted. I was on my way to receive the eucharist (the eucharist, by the way, is one of the sweetest and most intimate experiences I have of God). I was silently thinking about how much I didn’t deserve to receive Jesus’ precious body when I had been literally pondering everything that wasn’t him during that hour. However, in my heart I heard four small words.
I still want you
The perfect, all-powerful God of the universe still wanted to give me his total gift of self, even though I had given into my weaknesses and ignored his presence just seconds before. This, my friends, is where we need to begin. This is where our foundation is. If we can learn to accept Christ’s perfect love while knowing we are sinners, we can learn to accept ourselves and the love of others as a gift instead of something earned. Additionally, in seeking Jesus we will find who we truly are. In his book, “Thirsting for Prayer”, Fr. Jacques Phillippe sums this concept up beautifully:
“There is a whole aspect of our identity derived from our history, heredity, what we have experienced and the decisions we have made, but that is not the deepest part of ourselves. That deepest part comes to light only in the encounter with God, which strips us of everything artificial in our identity to bring us to what we really are, at the heart of our personhood. Our true identity is not so much a reality to be constructed as a gift to be received. It is not about achieving, but letting ourselves be begotten.”
So, the journey continues. I know for myself that it’s an ongoing process to learn to be genuine and keep myself from trying to be an image to gain affection. But the more that I discover Christ’s unconditional love for my broken soul, the freer I become to love and be loved. And the more that I try to seek him first, the more I discover who I am.
When you have a few minutes alone to pray, I invite you to take part in a reflection that has personally been helpful to me in opening my heart to Jesus’ perfect love: Close your eyes. Listen to the words of this song. Picture Jesus at end of a long hallway. He warmly gazes at you. He sees you for who you really are – all the messy and broken parts, all the imperfection, and all the beauty. As the song progresses, he’s walking slowly towards you. His eyes are full of love and understanding, and he wants to love you as you are. As he walks towards you, allow your fears of rejection to surface and give them to him. Eventually when he reaches you, he pulls you into a warm embrace. His embrace will last for as long as you want it to. While he hugs you, let him reassure you of his unconditional love.