|Photo by Lisa Delgado|
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How many times have we heard that cliché trotted out to encourage personal expression and self-fulfillment? But should we really be encouraging people to “be themselves”?
What does the phrase really mean?
In the general sense, I think most of us are using it to encourage individuality: to inspire others, especially young people, to develop a sense of personhood which is not wholly dictated by their peers, but is fostered instead by an appreciation of inner distinctiveness.
But how do you go about being yourself?
How to Be Yourself:
1. Wear fur pants. (Or, for my UK friends, so that you don't spray your computer monitors with mouthfuls of coffee, "Wear fur trousers.") Okay, so you don’t have to wear fur pants, necessarily. But if you seek the path to being yourself through being different, then you’re going to have to be genuinely different. Unfortunately, when most people try to be “different,” they all wind up being different in the same old ways. Every once in a while, though, we meet someone who gets it right. They’re genuinely different. I don’t have to describe this sort of person to you in detail, because if you’ve met anyone like this, then you know that such people defy easy description. They’re the ones who wear the fur pants and don’t mind what you think about it, thanks very much.
The good news is that instead of being mocked for their inclination toward the unconventional, such individuals are hailed as heroes of self-actualization and widely respected for their ability to do what many dream of doing—being themselves.
2. Learn everything there is to know about freeways. Again, it doesn’t have to be freeways. As has been previously mentioned here, the ability to like what you like and not be ashamed of it is not only one of the first steps toward being awesome, but also a good way to show people that you’re not afraid to be yourself. I once met someone who regaled me with a very detailed (yet, thankfully, concise) history of freeways. And you know what? I found it halfway interesting. Not because I’m inherently interested in freeways. I mean, other than being thankful that they exist, I really couldn't give an owl’s hoot. But I like hearing people speak passionately about their own particular pet subjects, so I sat up and took notice. Here was someone who knew how to be himself.
The good news is that such people are almost universally lauded for their depth of knowledge and the ability to launch into raptured monologues at a moment’s notice regarding the more prosaic concerns of life.
3. Become someone else completely. Learning to be yourself through becoming someone else sounds counterintuitive, but most aspects of spiritual growth do. After all, as A.W. Tozer reminds us, a Christian goes down to get up, loses his life to save it, and is strongest when he is weakest.
The Christian is also most like his true self when he learns to be like Christ.
Of everyone who’s ever lived, only Jesus has been able to show us what real humanity should look like, since he alone lived a life free of the pitfalls of sin. Only when we allow him to live in us, changing us from the inside out, can we become the best versions of ourselves possible.
The good news is that this concept—that freedom to be yourself only comes through Christ—is generally understood by the Christian community and clearly communicated to our youth.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I took Numbers 1-2 on the above list to heart, living them out with a kind of fierce pride. I dressed how I wanted to dress (not in fur pants, of course, because hello, Florida), I liked what I liked, and didn’t care what anybody thought about it (to be honest, looking back at the pictures, not even I am sure what I was thinking at the time). Of course I was teased, but for some reason that didn’t bother me all that much.
Somehow Numbers 1-2 were never an issue.
But Number 3 has been a lifelong challenge, and I still have a long way to go.
While I’m able to acknowledge my need to develop Christlikeness, there’s still something in me that resists bowing the knee, even to the Savior who loves me. While I desire consistent growth and change, I also fear it, because I know that change always requires giving up something of myself along the way.
I say that like it’s a bad thing.
May my heart learn to echo the words of John, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”