To be yourself, genuine and without airs, no need to perform or pretend to be what one isn't--especially the pretending that even you don't realize is pretend, until the ache in your heart becomes too great to bear--to be the real you stripped of all pretense and masks, is far beyond comfortable, far beyond a relief, far beyond serene. It is salvation, deliverance, an atmosphere of pure air to breathe rather than the stuffy air that suffocates one who anxiously desires approval but never really receives it because it isn't you who is approved, it's the role you're playing, the character in the unreal skit of your pseudo-life.
Heck, we learn at a very early age that we must mask ourselves, hide our identity. And we learn to do it so well that we often don't realize that we are unreal. There are signs of it, like the hollow echo in the relationships we establish, or the despair that is like a faint stain we can't remove from our thoughts, or the appetite for something richer and deeper that makes us feel alive. It makes perfect sense to perform for acceptance since if you experience rejection, then it isn't the real you that has been turned away. Whereas if you are to be vulnerable and expose who you are and others turn away, then where do you go from there? Of course, all the while the fake you is out there, the real you is hiding in the dark.
That's why truly being loved for yourself--blessings and blemishes--is a foretaste of heaven. And such vulnerable authenticity in you is a doorway through which others glimpse their freedom too.
For me, that's the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel is more than that too, but think about all the encounters Jesus had with the folk who were not approved. These stories described in the four Gospel accounts tell how prostitutes, tax collectors, the diseased and disabled, adulterers, Samaritans, and sinners (that's all inclusive) all were offered and some experienced a liberation from the burden of their disapproval. They were freed through the generosity of being loved as they were, not as they were expected to be. Their social context didn't necessarily change, but their hearts experienced a transformation. In many cases there understandably was an overwhelming gratitude. Think about Zacheus, or the leper, or the man born blind, or the prostitute, or Mary Magdalene, or the Samaritan woman at the well, and all the others whose hearts he freed from the tiny cages. The irony of this is how often the church requires people to be untrue to who God created them to be, in order to fit some ideal fabricated out of self-righteousness.
We can tie our hearts and bodies into Gordian knots trying to be who we think will be approved. It's a lousy way to live, trying to receive the awards of approval. It's a violent way to live--for ourselves and anyone we require to participate in the game, if they want our approval. On occasion we get glimpses of who we are when we feel joy and contentment, but these too quickly disappear. They are hints, nudges, whispers, whiffs of the aroma of peace and love.
At some point, by some mysterious power, some people loosen their grip and let go of the charade, drop the act, and in the process are released by an incredible love that goes far beyond the field of competitive approval. This deep love is a gift that gives us ourselves again.
© 2016 Stephen Carl