Are You for Real? (Part 2)

Remember this photo? You may recall that when this edition of Newsweek was released back in October of ’08 that more than a few of Sarah Palin’s supporters were more than a little outraged. If you missed hearing about the controversy, you may well wonder what possible reason anyone would have for feeling upset about a larger than life-sized head shot of a beautiful woman. With a quick glance, it’s hard to see anything wrong with the photo; at least she doesn’t have red lipstick horns photoshopped onto her head in this shot. Yet, surprisingly, it wasn’t the choice to photoshop Palin’s face that got so many people riled up in this case; it was the purposeful decision to neglect editing her appearance in any way. Tiny hairs and wrinkles that would ordinarily have been removed from such a cover photo were mysteriously left untouched. The Newsweek editors understood that by presenting Palin’s face as is, they could better accomplish the purpose they had in mind. They were well aware that we as Americans have become so accustomed to seeing retouched images of celebrities both in print and on the screen that it could now be considered offensive to show them as they actually appear in real life.

Don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not defending the magazine’s decision to treat Gov. Palin differently than they do virtually every other individual whose face they publish on their cover. Goodness knows I would have treated her better. I would have stamped, stamped, stamped those stray hairs out in no time! You’ve got to treat others the way you want to be treated, you know? And when world-wide evidence of our failure to tweeze our upper lip is at stake, I think we all know how we’d like to be treated. ;) 

In my last article, I talked about how many of us as Christian women have fallen into the trend of passing off a phony image of ourselves to those around us. Whether we do so consciously or somewhat unconsciously, we may be guilty at times of holding people at arm’s length, never allowing them to get close enough that they might discover we’d forgotten to tweeze that day (metaphorically speaking, of course). Although it seems that being ourselves would be the most natural thing in the world for us to be, as it turns out, being real can be really difficult. Instead, we make countless attempts to improve our image with phony ways of speaking and interacting with others in the hopes that we’ll receive greater love, acceptance, or admiration from those we meet than we would if they saw us for who we really are. But the problem is that phony people can only build phony relationships, and people cannot be truly loved, nor can God be truly honored through phoniness. It’s time that we toss that touched up image of ourselves that we’ve been carrying around and allow the beauty of Christ to shine through us.

Before we can get real, we need to figure out why we’re motivated to act phony in the first place. Last time, I identified three possible root issues—fear, guilt or pride. In regard to the issue of fear, we’ve already seen that we have to remember that our security is found in Christ, and we must allow the fear of God, rather than the fear of man to govern our actions. On to the next culprit…

Guilt—How can I keep them from finding out?

Most of us began practicing up on using phoniness to hide our guilt when we were but darling tykes. After creating a minor disaster, it seems that children come naturally equipped to feign an angelic nature as they ask, “What was what sound, Mommy?” Over time and with practice, we can become quite skilled at keeping issues of guilt hidden safely from view. A few examples…

  • When I was in college, I had a friend whose love for the Lord almost constantly bubbled over in her conversation. You couldn’t be around her without hearing her talk about God’s work in her life, what God was teaching her through Scripture, or something that made it clear how much she loved her Savior. It was great…most of the time. Some of the time though, my friend’s passion for Christ actually made me feel guilty, because I knew that I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for the Lord as she did. As a result and to my shame, there were times when I wanted to keep what I felt was a safe distance from her.
  • There was another time when I remember feeling for months that something was up between myself and one of my friends. Nothing drastic, but I had a vague sense that she wasn’t herself around me anymore. As it turned out, she finally confessed to me that she had been angry at me for something that she knew wasn’t my fault. Her guilt had built a wall between us that came toppling down as soon as she asked my forgiveness. 
  • Not too long ago, I counseled a woman who professed faith in Christ and had undergone an abortion in her past. It’s not unusual for a woman to feel reluctant about discussing a past abortion, but this woman’s reaction was a bit different from most I’d seen. When I asked her if she experienced any regret in regard to the abortion, her countenance changed dramatically. It was almost as though I had watched her put on a mask as she told me with unconvincing certainty that she had never regretted what she had done. It was, she said, the best decision she could have made. Even though it was clear to me that this poor woman was carrying an enormous burden of guilt, it was equally clear that she felt desperate to keep her true feelings completely concealed from view.

Each of these stories provides an illustration of how a sense of guilt can motivate us to tack on a handmade facade to hide something ugly that we’ve stored beneath the surface. We might use distance, feigned kindness, hypocrisy, or just plain old deceit in order to protect our sin from being exposed. Like me, you’ve probably been on both the giving and the receiving end of guilt-induced phony behavior at different points in your life. Perhaps you’re harboring a sin in your life right now that prevents you from being real with those around you. That’s a dangerous place for any of us to be. Satan loves to use our hidden sins to make us feel cut off from anyone who might help us to find victory through Christ. Can I encourage you right now to confess and forsake that sin? Whether it’s something relatively small like feeling angry at a friend over something unkind they’ve said, or something huge like flirting with the idea of adultery, Christ can forgive it all. The promise of 1 John 1:9 is a comfort for all believers, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Maybe you’ve already confessed and forsaken a sin, yet still feel threatened by the idea of others finding out about your past. You know that’s a trick of Satan too, right? Don’t carry that burden around any longer! If the Righteous Judge of the Universe has forgiven you, then who or what do you have to fear? Check 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. You may have been many things before you received Christ’s forgiveness, but in Christ, you are washed, sanctified, and justified. It’s not your former sins that define you; it’s your current standing in Christ. You’ll find that it’s much easier to be real when you know that you’re really forgiven.

So what do you think? Is being real with others something you struggle with? How do you think our relationship with the Lord and others would change if we made prayerful efforts to keep fear and guilt from causing us to fall into phoniness?

Read Part Three

Are You for Real?

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

Psalm 17:15

Don’t you love this video? It’s kind of freeing to watch, isn’t it? Wow. It’s amazing what they can do with Photoshop these days. There used to be a day when a photo was a record of fact, but it would seem that day is long behind us. When it comes to photos, the line between fact and fiction is very easily rubber-stamped out. I should know. I studied art in college and learned just enough of Photoshop to be dangerous. As it turns out, the only use I have for my shoddy Photoshop skills is in retouching my Facebook photos. At last, the truth comes out… It’s truly amazing what that little rubber stamp tool can do. Flyaway hair? Stamp, stamp, stamp—It’s gone! Shiny forehead? Stamp, stamp, stamp—Never existed! Funny crease in your neck? Ok, you get the idea. The point is that when you see one of my photos, it’s highly likely that you’re not just seeing me, you’re probably looking at a slightly enhanced version of me.

As I’ve thought about this topic, I’ve realized that touched up photos aren’t the only means that we have for presenting a slightly enhanced version of ourselves to those we meet. Some of us are better at it than others, but I think that we all struggle from time to time with the temptation to show a photoshopped picture of ourselves to the world. What am I talking about? Let me answer that with a question, “Are you for real?” It’s funny that such a question even needs asking; after all, we’re all real, right? Well, yes, we all exist, but, no, we are not all real. As women, we’re pretty good at putting up a good front, and as Christian women, unfortunately, we’re often even better at putting up a better front. Phony baloney—that’s how my family used to describe it. You might use other words to describe this kind of behavior—being insincere, disingenuous, fake, artificial, superficial, plastic, hypocritical, or unnatural. Yuck. These are not pleasant words.

Here are some that have a much better ring to them: real, transparent, genuine, sincere, natural, honest, straightforward, or undisguised. Mind if I ask you a tough question? Which set of words do you think people are more likely to use to describe you? I’ve been asking myself that question lately. I’ve also been asking myself why that first yucky list of words could so often be used to describe our interaction with one another. Why do we feel more comfortable showing others the artificial, touched up version of ourselves instead of letting people see who we really are? Why are we tempted to hold people at arm’s length? Why the phony baloney? Although we could probably come up with a multitude of reasons, I think that there are often three main heart issues which motivate us to hide who we really are from others—fear, guilt, or pride. Let’s take a look. 

Fear—Who am I?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? I know I have, at least a gazillion times throughout my life. Knowing our identity is a key issue in being able to relate genuinely with others. If you don’t know the answer to the question “Who am I?” you can easily become consumed with fearful thoughts about your identity. And as you know, it’s hard to reach out to others when you’re all wrapped up in yourself. The good news is that if you’re a Christian, you need never struggle with an identity crisis again. Everything you need to know about who you are is found in God’s Word. And let me tell you, it’s an inspiring read. For those of us who are “in Christ Jesus,” here’s just a little bit of who the Bible says that we are:

Rescued, Redeemed, Forgiven, Reconciled, Holy, Blameless, Beyond Reproach, Made Complete, Raised Up, Made Alive, Chosen, Adopted, Heirs with Christ, Sealed in Christ, Seated with Christ, Saved, Created for Good Works, Brought Near to God, Given Access to the Father, Members of God’s Household, and So Much More…

As believers in Jesus Christ, this is our identity; this is who we are! I encourage you to see it for yourself in the Word. The first two chapters of Ephesians and Colossians are a good place to start. The confidence that we need to live and love boldly comes from knowing exactly who we are because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae conveys this confidence well in his song “Identity”:

I’m not the shoes I wear, I’m not the clothes I buy
I’m not the house I live in, I’m not the car I drive
I’m not the job I work, You can’t define my worth
By nothing on God’s green earth, my identity is found in Christ.

Fear—What do they think of me?

Although God’s opinion of us is the only one that truly counts, if you’re like me, then you probably spend far more time worrying about what others think of you than what God does. The world calls our concern for what others think of us by many names—low self esteem, insecurity, an inferiority complex, codependency, etc. The Bible has a much simpler name for it—the fear of man. When we allow our lives to be governed by the fear of man, we’ll quickly find ourselves nearly paralyzed with worry about what we should or should not say or do. We want others to like us, so we carefully plan out our words and actions in the hopes that we can make ourselves more attractive to them. Instead of being transparent with those around us, we function more like mirrors, trying to reflect the behavior of those that we see as admirable. The speech of a person governed by the fear of man may be marked by flattery, exaggeration, flat-out deceit, boasting, excessive talking, or the overuse of humor. Rather than allowing others to see who we really are, we focus on showing them who we think they want to see instead.

Proverbs 29:25 speaks of both the danger of this kind of lifestyle and the antidote: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” We avoid the trap of fearing man by trusting in and fearing the Lord instead. If we allow the fear of man to rule us, we’ll be just as phony as the Pharisees and rulers of Jesus’ day who “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (Jn. 12:43). Jesus, on the other hand lived not with a goal of pleasing others but of always pleasing His Father (Jn. 8:29). If we allow that kind of single-minded focus to dictate our behavior, we’ll be far more likely to show others the real deal and throw the phony baloney out the window. ;)

How does that sound to you?

Read Part Two

An excellent resource for overcoming the fear of man in your life is When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch. I can’t recommend this book highly enough!