Everyone needs a place of belonging. Everyone. I see it unfold in the lives of the students in the high school youth group I help out with, I see it in the lives of the people I worship with on Sunday morning, I see it in the lives of the men at the local mosque. We were made for community, we were made for belonging, but sometimes factors get in the way. Maybe in the season of being the “new guy” it’s hard to be authentic, maybe you’re someone who’s “once bitten twice shy” and trust factors get in the way and it takes time to get to that point again (I am one of those people).
But here’s the thing, if you have settled down roots someplace and trust and authenticity is being cultivated, people bare their souls of what’s really going on and none of that “fine” or “good” language that seems to be commonplace, my question is if you have all that going for you, why would you resort to unauthenticity?
I recognize from working with high school students, trust doesn’t come easily when you’re the “new guy”; there’s a lot of flux, a lot of in-and-out leaders within youth ministry as well as other places. So it comes down to seeing if the “new guy” is going to stick around, is not going to leave…because truth to be told, it’s hard to place trust in someone if they’re not going to be around for long, if youth leaders have a shelf life of 1-2 years, that certainly takes its toll on trust earned.
But back to being unauthentic…
Now I am an individual who has been bitten many a time (proverbially) and as a result I am shy for a while, I say for a while because God has given me a desire to be authentic with those around me, and sometimes my authenticity is the nudge that helps people get there themselves, authenticity begets authenticity is what my mind murmurs time and again, and granted I don’t put myself out there with the intention of getting the authenticity ball rolling, but thankfully sometimes…a lot of the time, it does.
I recognized in my early 20s that my life was somewhat of a facade, that for all appearance’s sake I seemed to have my life in order when in all honesty nothing seemed to be right. I also recognized that my lack of authenticity kept me apart from friends that even at that point I had known for a long time, being unauthentic kept me from those I loved and the act of “fine” and “good” was and is utterly exhausting.
Think about it, if you’re in an environment that you can share from your heart about what’s really going no matter how big it is and they’re still there after the dust has settled…THAT is someplace of belonging, that is somewhere where you can grow, the individuals who make up that group can make a world of difference…but the caveat comes when that environment exists and there are individuals who don’t want to “play with others” and so they keep on giving pat answers to silence the masses, which has the power to harm not only the person who’s offering them up but the community at large.
Plus there’s the side of keeping all your stories straight; you have to remember what you said to someone which may have been different from what you said to someone else. It because a verbal juggling event, but there keeps on being an additional conversation to juggle with each person you talk to, eventually the whole thing will fall apart. I like how my friend put it, he said the unauthentic life was like a stage, and what’s going on in front of the audience sometimes doesn’t reflect what’s truly going on backstage, and so it’s a tiring running back and forth of maintaining what’s being sold to others and what’s really going on behind the scenes, eventually the curtain will fall and both facets will be exposed for what they are, with that in mind…let the curtain fall, because it is too tiring to live the double life.
So my e-advice to you the reader is twofold: 1) Do what you can to cultivate a place where people can be authentic to what’s really going on in their lives 2) Do what you can to be authentic in said place, not for selfish motives, but because you want to believe that if others are willing to bare it all you can as well.
These things take time, but I believe that being authentic helps to develop a better community with those around you, as Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world”, it starts with you but it doesn’t have to end with you.