God has taught me so much over the last year or so since the pandemic started. One of the most significant lessons He has taught me is how to be more real both to Him and to those around me.
It’s always refreshing to be able to be around those who are honest in both their character and their demeanor. Being genuine, or real, to me involves possessing these characteristics. A lack of or deficiency in these traits may indicate a lack of authenticity in a person.
Being real involves a willingness to be honest about who you really are–The most genuine people don’t only talk about the best parts of their personality or their lives, but they show the tough stuff that they have gone through as well. A good example of this is my friend Alex, who has revealed himself real and raw whenever he shares something with me or the world. Several of my pastors have also strived to be genuine by revealing their struggles with sin and temptation, as well as how they have overcome some of them, and how they are constantly working to become more godly. They don’t lord over people or have a holier-than-thou persona.
Being real involves being able to be honest about how you are really feeling.–Nothing is more surface than answering the question of “How are you?” with a flat “fine,” especially if that is not the case. What’s even worse is when someone is trying to answer the “How are you?” question honestly, and the person asking the question blows them off and doesn’t really care for their true answer. When you create an environment that is free of judgment, ridicule and condemnation and really take the time to care about how a person really feels about something, the more likely the person will be willing to share their authentic feelings about a situation.
Being real involves losing the need to always impress people and instead just be our true selves.–I felt that my one ex-friend always wanted to impress me with her “holiness” and her supposed religiosity. I finally saw through that, and now that is one of the reasons why she is now my EX-friend. If a person consistently expects you to impress them with a certain type of persona instead of being who you really are, including your flaws and foibles, chances are they are toxic to be around. You should probably show them the door. Either way, we should strive to be our true selves around those we care about in order to free them to be who they really are. The people who truly love us will want to know our real selves, and not just the persona you are trying to create to impress them or the persona you feel you must show to the general public.
Being real is crucial to building trust and maintaining good and lasting relationships with others. If you cannot be who you really are, then people are really not getting to know the real you. If they like “you” they are not liking the Real You, only the image of who they think “you” are. When people are acting fake or hypocritical to me, it feels like they are lying to me because in a sense they are. When one lies, they erode whatever trust I had in them. When one is authentic, however, it is one of the most refreshing, elating and freeing experiences one can ever experience in life.
I have seen and heard a lot of vitriol recently in my social media feed regarding our government, the coronavirus response, and quarantine life in general. Although some of the vitriol has come from non-Christians, I have seen a disturbing number of professing believers also being just as vicious in their messages, and, as a follower of Christ, that makes me so upset and sad. Just to clarify, I have also seen some believers being very gracious and kind in their responses to those who disagree with them, especially my former pastor who responds with the grace and dignity that I can only hope that more people, no matter their religious affiliation, would emulate. However, here are some things that I have heard and/or witnessed myself with some of those who profess belief in Christ that have grieved me, and that believers (myself included) should make sure we never do or stop doing, if we struggle with these issues.
Not showing grace to those who disagree with them.—Years ago, before I was a true believer in Christ, I have to admit I was guilty of this. I condemned and cursed those who would even criticize my favorite musical group. Thankfully, I have grown from that, and I aim to show grace to those who disagree with my views on life. Unfortunately, I was reading one of my friend’s social media feeds (The friend is a strong believer), and their friends (also believers) seemed to be attacking one another and not showing very much grace to one another. I would be horrified to hear what non-Christians who witnessed this would think of us believers now in light of this! I would advise believers like myself to refrain from engaging in arguments or discussions if you are unable to keep from condemning or otherwise bad mouthing your opponent. This silence will keep your witness from being marred or even destroyed and from giving the enemies of the Lord occasion to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14).
Loving their neighbor, but hating their enemies.—Going along with the first point, we should strive to love those around us, even our enemies. I know it’s tough, and I also struggle with this. However, when we see even our enemies, as fellow image-bearers of God with real dreams and goals, we can make a new friend out of them! When I decided to humble myself before God and follow what Jesus said in Matt 5:44, which says,” Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” winning them over is eventually what happened in numerous situations. For instance, I had trouble getting along with one of my now-former managers. In fact, at some point, I would actually have been honest in saying I hated them! However, after God revealed to me the unnecessary bitterness and anger in my heart towards them, I eventually saw them with eyes of love and compassion. Now, I hold them close to my heart as one of my good friends.
Being prideful or self-righteous in any situation, especially when being confronted with sin in their lives.—I can usually tell if a person is a mature Christian by the way they respond to criticism and when they are confronted with their sins. For instance, when confronted with criticism over an article he linked about obeying government, my pastor did not respond with vitriol or pride. Instead, he humbly and gracefully explained his position, which caused some of the people who criticized him to examine the issue further and not get upset. However, I also had a friend who I had to confront because they had violated my boundaries more than once, and instead of humbly apologizing or respecting me, they got upset and told me I was “crazy.” Both my pastor and my friend would claim to be professing Christians, but the way each of them responded reflects how true their belief in Christ really is. Unlike what society around us may say, pride is not an attractive quality in anyone. Humility is, because it shows that you can be real with someone without playing the victim or feeling attacked.
Being one person in public, and another behind closed doors.—Believing one thing and doing another is called being a hypocrite, and being two-faced will grossly undermine any credible witness you may have. In order to combat this, strive to be transparent with others about how you are living your life. This may include sharing your struggles with at least one or two close friends, and inviting their accountability and encouragement to do better. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. In Galatians 6:2 (KJV), it says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” I believe when this verse says to bear one another’s burdens, it also includes letting other people bear yours! Yes, I understand that trusting others is difficult sometimes, but do you trust God to do what is best for you through them? God will never let you go, and He has a good plan for you always, for a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28).
When we as a Body of believers resolve never to do these four things, we can have a major impact for the Kingdom of God! We can be the authentic, cross-bearing, Jesus loving believers we were created by God to be!
I am willing to be friends with almost anyone, but every
person that I consider to be my close friend embodies these characteristics.
No, they are not perfect, and may fail at times, but they have consistently
embodied these traits. Not only do I prefer these following character traits in
close friends, but I think, everyone, me included, of course, should strive to
embody these traits every single day, so we can make a true difference in this world:
The most important trait that my close friends all have is
authenticity. This means they always present themselves as honest, trustworthy,
and genuine. They do not act one way towards
others, and another way towards you. They don’t do things with ulterior
motives. All my close friends do not do things for people just to get something
from them, but because my friends really want to help and bring joy to their
lives. Also, another part of how they
are authentic is their honesty. For
instance, when one of my close friends gives me her wisdom, she always tells me
the truth, even if it hurts. Some people have been afraid to tell me truth
because they are scared that I will get upset at them and they will be looked
upon as harsh or mean. Nothing could be further from the truth! I appreciate this about my friend because her
honesty shows that she values me and having integrity—a rare, but needed
trait in our society today! By telling me the truth, she is inadvertently telling
me that I am worth what is true. Sure,
some of the things she has said may “sting” a little bit, but I appreciate that
because it shows that she values honesty.
Another trait that my closest friends all have is a
servant’s heart. All of my close friends
have lived in one capacity or another to serve the Lord and to serve
others. Some are serving the Lord as
missionaries. Others are serving their families when everyone else has
abandoned them. Still others are serving
their community through their resources, gifts, and talents. I strive to do the
same. When we have a servant’s heart, we emulate Christ, who went so far as to
die on a cross for us, and to wash every one of His disciples’ feet, even those
of the one who would eventually betray Him!
They are constantly thinking of others above themselves, working to make
the world a better place for everyone.
Also, another trait that my closest friends all have is the
willingness to be vulnerable. I define
vulnerability as being willing to share openly not only one’s triumphs and
victories with a trusted person, but also one’s trials and struggles. When I
see someone that is unwilling to admit to me or to the world that they are not
always “perfect,” I feel like they are lying to me in a way, because I know no
one, except God, is really perfect. Mark
Hall, of the contemporary Christian band, Casting Crowns, once said, “[I]t
doesn’t bother the world that we sin. It bothers the world that we act like we
don’t.” (CBN.com) One of my friends, Veronica,* is so passionate about being
vulnerable, it saddens her when others are not willing to open up to her. In years past, I admit I have struggled with
being vulnerable because I did not want people to judge or ridicule me. However, I have realized over the past five to
ten years or so, that being willing to be open about one’s struggles opens up other people to not be afraid to share
their struggles. It shows unity in our human-ness, and creates a deep bond
between people who are like-minded in their willingness to open up to each
other. It also enables others to help us
through our struggles, and us to help in theirs, so we will not feel alone in
our pain and struggles.
Another ultra-important trait my close friends have is
thoughtfulness and care towards others.
Along with having a servant’s heart, they are truly intuitive to the
needs of others. One of my close
friends, Erica,* knowing that I have struggled off and on with the loneliness
that comes with long term singleness, gave me a book that she thought would
help me (as it has helped her as well) with my lonely and unfulfilled feelings
that I sometimes struggle with, for my birthday. I will always treasure the thoughtfulness of
that gift and her friendship, even though we are not able to see each other
very often right now. A few days ago, when I was distraught and anxious about
several events that were going on in my life, my friend *Bonnie was willing to
take time out of her busy life to answer my texts and encourage me, as she
sensed that I was hurting and sad. I aim
to do the same for her, when she has issues, and also for anyone else who wants
moral support in a time of need. All my
close friends are willing to take the time to attend to others’ needs and to give
them the encouragement they need, especially in a tough time.
Last, but certainly not least, all my closest friends have
spiritual and emotional depth in them. This is what I aim to have in my life
more and more, though it is often a struggle for me, as it is even for these
friends. This does not mean they shut themselves off from the world around
them. However, this does mean that they are able to relate on a deeper level
with people. For instance, when I want to discuss why there is injustice in
this world, they can give me spiritual insight in wisdom into why God allows
this and how we can remedy it. In contrast, some people either don’t care about
these things or aren’t able to understand these things. For believers in Christ
to have spiritual depth to them is an essential ingredient in being able to
relate to others in their church and to get others, even those who don’t go to
church, to think about their purpose and goals in life and how they can relate
better to the world around them.
I’m so thankful to have these great, close friends—you
know who you are—who embody these characteristics. I pray that we all would strive to embody
authenticity, a servant’s heart, vulnerability, thoughtfulness, and depth to our
lives so we can bring love and joy to others, and lead them to freedom from
their pain and fears.
For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of
depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life.
Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of
despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have
preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted
to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable
life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life:
One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes
is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the
past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that I never told
anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I
got so used to hiding that when I finally decided needed help with my issues,
some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I
struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than
likely, several people.
Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my
pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to
struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or
condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones
that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and
being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those
around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened,
as I started to heal.
Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to
be value my time– especially the good, depression-free times– more. When I am
depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel
like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content
with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I
realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the
good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of
the worst of my depressive episodes.
The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going
through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for
allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been
using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my
depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues
than I ever had! He has also used my
struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards
others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the
layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.
If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain. Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.
It has been said in both media and general
health circles that artificial flavoring, colors, and additives can have
harmful effects on the body. I can
attest from personal experience that artificial people can also have harmful
effects on us. What do I mean by
artificial, or “fake “ people? I do not mean that they physically do not exist
in reality or that they are worthless, but, rather that these people display
behaviors that regularly hide who they really are and their true intentions.
For instance, fake people will be “kind” to you only if you are beneficial for
them and do exactly what they want. When they realize you are a unique person
with your own dreams and desires, or when you no longer can meet their desires,
their true intentions will show.
In our society, many people tend to strive for
power and prestige of some sort, whether it be popularity, money, or some other
kind of status. This has led some to become so desperate, that they feel the
need to impress and hide their true selves. There also seems to be a
narcissistic tendency in these people and in societal culture in general.
I used to, when I was growing up, want similar
prestige, thinking if I worked hard enough and succeeded in school, I would
somehow gain the love and acceptance from others I so craved. However, when
Jesus took a hold of my life, I realized that I really wanted authentic acceptance and love, things
that only happened when God helped me open up and not fear who I was inside.
I don’t do fake.
I don’t do fake, because fakeness creates
distance and separation between people. I have a problem with people who have a
facade of never having trouble or personality deficits, because it 99.9% of the
time means they are hiding something from you, while simultaneously pretending
to be someone who they are really not. In fact, in my life, I have had to limit
contact with several people like this, because I realized my friendship with
them would no longer be sustainable if I wasn’t able to trust them. Fake- ness
separates people and creates walls between them.
One of the reasons I created this blog is to
strive everyday to live vulnerably and authentically. I have realized that if
we are open to others about our struggles, it frees others from the fear of
condemnation and judgment, and allows them to be more able to share their issues and struggles.
I don’t do fake because fake- ness impairs
one’ s ability to truly love. Because many people wear facades and become
“fake” to advance and/ or protect themselves, they become so self-focused, they can give little or
nothing to others around them. True love, by definition, is giving oneself for
the benefit of another. When we are authentic, we are more free to give of
ourselves because we are not tied down by fears of being exposed or rejected on
a basis of our lies. When I was able to be more authentic with people in my
life, I found that I became more confident in myself and my ability to give
something of value to them.
I don’t do fake because it is deceptive and
disappointing. Satan is the “Father of Lies,” and thus fakeness too. Christ was
never fake! He always told people
what He really thought and didn’t hide His true self from anyone, including His
deity! In fact, He was so authentic that it irritated and angered the
Pharisees, who lived in hiddenness and hypocrisy in order to maintain their
power and prestige over the common people! I strive to be like Christ by not
being afraid to show my true self to others. Of course it can be scary to show
one’s true self because not everyone will accept you, but it’s better than
being “loved” for who you are really not.
Also, there will be people who will appreciate and accept your
authenticity, and how freeing is that!
Also, the truth will always be found out in the end. Yes, one may get away with
being inauthentic for a while, but the day will come when they will be exposed
as the fraud they had been all along. Don’t let that be you!
I don’t do fake because it devalues oneself
and others. When someone hides from me and masquerades into someone who they
are really not deep inside, they are, in essence, telling me they don’t think
I’m worth the truth! When we
consistently hide our true selves from others, we are also devaluing ourselves
because we are unconsciously telling ourselves that we are not worth loving for
who we really are. We thus say to
ourselves that we have to create an “ideal” self to be acceptable to us and
I don’t do fake, and neither should you. Shine
forth as the unique and beautiful person you were created to be, and strive not
to be afraid of your struggles and flaws because everyone has them!