Can you be authentic without receiving grace? Can you receive grace without being vulnerable?
There are hundreds of people in our sanctuary on any given weekend service. I kind of like it, it’s easy to get lost. My soul aches and tears come easy. No one will ask “THE” question as long as I don’t show “THAT” emotion or answer their greeting with any real honesty. (Notice I said honesty – I can be polite and cheerful, and I can be genuinely concerned with their well being but I won’t let on, nope- not even an inch about my hurt).
I’ve played church. Much like the game of “playing house” as a child, I can play church. I know what to say to those who shake my hand when the Pastor asks us to greet those around us. I know when to raise my hands in adoration so as not to stand out. I can clap over the tears and bow my head when what I really want to do is scream profanities at the sky. And afterwards, I know the “escape routes” to gather my brood and get out without having to tell anyone how bad I ache or how mad I am … or how many times I’ve screwed up today. I can show an appearance just enough to keep the questions at bay and me safely hidden behind a wall. I have grown up in the church and I know the lingo, the culture, the game.
Please hear me- I am speaking of church and it’s culture, and in no way minimizing connection to the Holy Spirit and our savior Jesus Christ. There is a difference between connection to your faith or your beliefs and connection with God’s people. I am talking about authentic connection with God’s people. We all want to belong and have connection. We are sheep following the Shepherd and there is security in a herd. It’s one thing to know the Shepherd’s voice and have an intimate relationship with Him and it’s another thing entirely to be in relationship with rest of the flock. They bite sometimes.
But then vulnerability wacked me upside the head when I realized how empty I still was. God gave me a literal example of the purpose of vulnerability when I faced the very real possibility that life could end. I realized that if I can’t be vulnerable, I can’t be authentic. If I can’t be authentic then I am not truly connected and my time has been wasted. I was redeemed for connection not waste.
Standing in the middle of church life, it is extremely easy to fall into the “shoulds”. You “should” be reading your Bible. You “should” be attending church every week, and participate in the same rote conversations. You “should” pray for this, and that, and this. You “should” worship like this. You “should” come to this event. You “should” spend your money like this, not that. Should… Should… Should….. If you can keep up- just maybe you’ll be qualified, valued. Then add in a few shouldn’ts. You “shouldn’t” still be struggling with this. You “shouldn’t” feel that way or think that way. You “shouldn’t” talk that way. You “shouldn’t” need or want that. You “shouldn’t” have that. It feels disqualifying.
I wore “should” and “shouldn’t” for many years until I nearly suffocated under their weight. That is when I finally noticed the freedom and the breath of grace. All of those should and should nots have origins in truth but they aren’t meant to be worn like duties; they are meant to be forms of worship echoing from the grace growing in your heart. Grace comes after you recognize and accept the shortcomings, failures and imperfections within your own heart. In reality we don’t need to “should”- our value and belonging hung on the cross and broke through the grave.
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” ~Brene Brown.
I used to think being authentic meant braving through vulnerability and muscling through rejection, criticism, and disappointment. It isn’t that at all. Authenticity is accepting the imperfections, the shortcomings, the beauty within myself through the reflection of His eyes. It isn’t about disproving the judgments and criticisms of fellow Christians, but instead about standing vulnerable to His presence, His grace. It is allowing Him to show me the beauty within my pain, the glory within my trials and the fruit already coming from my efforts.
Authentic Faith is staring your imperfections in the face and finding the reflection of your savior.
Psalm 62:3-8 (MSG)
How long will you gang up on me?
How long will you run with the bullies? …
You talk a good line, but every “blessing” brings a curse.
God, the one and only-
I’ll wait as long as he says.
Everything I hope for comes from him,
So why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
Breathing room for my soul,
An impregnable castle:
I’m set for life.
My help and glory are in God
-granite-strength and safe-harbor-God
So trust him absolutely, people:
Lay your lives on the line for him.
God is a safe place to be.