One of the great buzz words of our times is ‘authenticity’—we are to be ‘authentic’. We are meant to express ourselves authentically— from “I’m just saying what I feel” to “I just had to walk away from my wife and children—I had to be true to myself.”
Obviously I believe in being honest and genuine, but often ‘authenticity’ is less about being honest and more a justification for doing what we want despite the needs of others around us. It is the great whitewash agent of the 21st century, used to excuse much.
Authenticity seems to be premised in the crazy idea that we are somehow innately good, and in being authentic we are somehow peeling back the layers to expose that innate goodness.
But the last thing society wants from me is for me to be authentic! I have many natural impulses and instincts which need to be restrained and rooted out. Self-control needs to be exercised so that life is liveable for those around me!
We are flawed individuals, flawed from the day we were born. We have attitudes and appetites which in no way need expressing, but need restraining. Oscar Wilde understood this, and in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray the portrait of Gray becomes uglier and uglier as Gray himself gives free reign to his expressiveness and his appetites.
In addition, to be authentic leaves us completely wrapped up in ourselves—doing what I want regardless of the impact it has on others. I have to be true to me—the rest of you can live with the consequences. Such authenticity is fundamentally selfish.
What is the alternative to authenticity? Is it hypocrisy? Pretend to be something we aren’t? Certainly not. The alternatives are self-control and other-centredness. These forgotten traits are still greatly admired when we see them. Long after the buzz of the latest celebrity being ‘authentic’ has been forgotten about, people around us who are gentle in their speech, genuine in their concern, and servant-hearted in their action continue to make an impression on us.
These qualities grow out of self-awareness and love for others. Life isn’t about me; it’s about me in connection with others. Love and community call us to consider our actions in light of the impact on those around us. And so we recognise that we are flawed and instead of giving vent to our flaws, thus reinforcing them, we restrain them.
But we need more than to restrain them. We all need transformation. We need rescued from ourselves. And it’s only when we grasp that, that we are in a position to ask Jesus to forgive us and transform us. We are at our most authentic when we admit who we really are and, instead of expressing it, seek God’s help to make us into who we were designed to be.
You see, the true ‘me’ is not something buried deep inside needing to be exposed, but rather the ‘true me’ starts with God’s intervention—with a ‘new birth’ as Jesus puts it—and then is something which God is taking me towards. One day I will be the true, true me. In the meantime, for the Christian, instead of being ‘true to myself’ aim for ‘being true to Christ’.
Don’t be ‘authentic’; seek the only one who was truly authentic—Jesus—and he will make you more authentically you than you could ever have imagined.