Live Authentically (Part 3 of 3)



Live Authentically (Part 3 of 3)

I have a graphic on my computer desktop that says: “Words” mean “Things”.

Our three carefully chosen phrases, Listen Well, Think Deeply, Live Authentically serve as statements of the shared values each of us seek to demonstrate in our everyday lives. Each statement is both simple and profound.

In this short series we are going to explore what each statement means to us. We will try and keep it real and honest, because there is no right answer, and none of us are claiming to be experts.

What does living authentically mean to us?

I have to begin with a reference to the recent debate about whether the BeReal app is truly a fight-back against the best-self-promotion of other social media apps, or just a means of curating a deeper level of fake authenticity. I would suggest that it is the need to be seen by others that undermines the very idea of presenting 'authenticity' via an app.

The idea of the 'authentic self' was a Romantic-era reaction against the prevailing culture that insisted every individual should accept the restrictive rules and stereotypes imposed by society, culture, family, religion, gender and wealth. So my understanding of authenticity has to be filtered through my primary identity as one who has been redeemed and called to follow Jesus. It includes the willingness to be vulnerable, transparent and real. Also truthful, forthright and sincere.

For me it means being real with God, myself and others. That has been hugely helped by being beautifully parented. I'd award both my parents A** for good ‘Attachment Theory‘! Being loved, feeling secure certainly helped me to be more real. It’s hard at times but it’s liberating from being consumed by what other people think of you, even when their misunderstanding, misrepresenting and maligning of you really hurts. It's challenging and requires humility as I am confronted with the reality of my own strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears, joys and sadnesses, achievements and failures. But it is life-giving to have that consistency between our inner, true self and our outward expression of life. For me authenticity is inextricably linked to integrity and transparency.

Brené Brown, a researcher and storyteller, states in her book The Gift of Imperfection: "Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are." What sometimes stops me from being authentic is fear of what others think of me and their judgement of my actions. The reality is I have flaws and quirky idiosyncrasies and this is what it is to be human and vulnerable. Self-awareness and self-acceptance helps me to live authentically and not be striving to be perfect or fit in with the conditions of worth placed upon me. Interestingly, when we take off our 'vulnerability armour', share ourselves with trusted others, and accept our human complexity with unconditional positive regard, others around us can be themselves too. A place to start is becoming more self-aware. A practical exercise in self-awareness is using the Johari Window exercise with trusted others (family and friends). In the corporate world it is called a 360 appraisal!

How do we see Jesus living authentically in the Gospels?

I spent a 3-month sabbatical studying the culture in which Jesus lived and taught, and this opened my eyes to the extreme degree to which he allowed himself to be a living critic of the religious facades that had neutered his Father's invitation to holy, and holistic, living. I can't begin to list the ways our Western mind has misunderstood his call to live as a disciple.

Jesus lived what he taught. His authenticity was seen in his deep humanity and transparent vulnerability.

Jesus appears in the Gospels to be deeply secure in the Father’s love (illustrates healthy attachment), this enables him to be vulnerable and live authentically. We see glimpses of this in the Gospels. Sleeping through the storm, withdrawing to pray from the pressing crowds, and being among the undesirable and rejected. His firm foundation enables him to have unconditional positive regard and authentic love for others. He demonstrates Agapé love towards humanity, his enemies and the‚ ‘Beloved’ enemies who betray or deny him. Could many of us love Judas as Jesus did, knowing what he knew was in his heart towards him? Or the disappointment of Peter the coward, disowning him in his darkest hour?

In what ways do we struggle to live authentically?

Whenever I feel the need to promote myself, feel sorry for myself or make excuses, I think I may be in danger of taking myself too seriously and living inauthentically.

When I have been maligned or when I am being misrepresented, I either do an injustice to myself in the cause of being a peacemaker, (I am a 9 on the Enneagram scale) or sometimes when I feel the need to defend myself, when it might be better just to let go and draw a line and leave the attitudes, thoughts and behaviour of others and its consequences to God.

I struggle to live authentically when I am not living from my personal autonomy, inner vision and wisdom, or I cannot see it clearly—a bit like shaking a snow globe and not seeing the scene until the snow settles. The Person-Centred approach in counselling calls this living from your own ‘locus of evaluation’ and trusting your ‘organismic valuing process’ (easier to read than said out loud!). Living out of my values, wisdom and deepest feelings, experiences and beliefs instead of living from other people’s approval and acceptance or unrealistic ‘conditions of worth’. I’m a work in progress! Shared wisdom and evaluation and validation take place in relationship(s). However, personal autonomy is essential for healthy, interdependent lives and living well.

Is there anything we have learned recently that is helping us to live authentically more effectively?

Since gaining a better understanding of the culture of Jesus' day, I find myself wanting to be challenged by people who may think differently to me. I have learned that I need to apply my values and convictions to the real world, and spend much more time reading psychology books than I used to because they help me understand my hidden drives and biases.

I think I've come to the place in my life, quite possibly because of being in my '60s, of realising and being more free to be real. Sometimes I have allowed my peacemaking motivation and desire to placate others to suppress what I really feel. I found it much more freeing to I say what I truly think and don't try and compromise in the company of others who think or behave differently. Increasingly I am aware of the love and grace of God that frees me to be the person who I truly am.

Roy, I’m so glad to know I have something to look forward to in my 60s! I think you have a point here about life stages and coming to the realisation that you are freer to be real and your authentic self. I think this comes from longevity of living and going around the block a few times and knowing yourself in the light of God’s love and grace. What I have been reminded of recently that is helping me to live authentically more effectively is the practice of self-reflection and remaining in a place of curiosity and not condemnation to understand what is behind my triggers or motivations or someone else’s towards me and gleaning the learning from it. A similar exercise from a different lens is the Daily Examen and practicing gratefulness.

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This is a combined article with inputs from all members of the collective.

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