Living Authentically

Have you ever been in a awkward situation when you had no idea what to do?  I’ve had many weird moments in my life, but there is one in particular that stands out.

Many years ago I was speaking at a youth event of about three thousand participants.  The arena was loud and I could feel the excitement and the energy in the room.  I was introduced walked on stage to my “stick” and began to connect with the audience. However, I was immediately distracted. 

I’m not sure if anyone noticed how distracted I was, but my attention was drawn to one student in the crowd.  In the middle of a sea of people sat a kid with a brown paper bag over his head with eye holes in the bag so he could see.   At first I thought it was a joke and he’d soon remove his costume.  Yet, all evening, through hours of music, entertainment and talks he sat there, motionless in his chair.  I was bothered.  I was distracted.  I was confused.  And I had questions.  Who was this kid?  Why was he wearing a paper bag?  What was going with him?  

I couldn’t let this situation go!  I requested that the staff help me find this guy so I could talk to him.  That night he disappeared in the large crowd as they exited the arena.  The next day, there he was, sure enough, sitting in the middle of the crowd still wearing the paper bag.  I was perturbed! The audacity of this young man! 

Later that evening I walked back stage before my talk.  An adult chaperone pulled me aside and told me she had someone who wanted to talk to me.  I followed her to a room and there he was, “paper bag head”, standing in the middle of the room.  Apparently I said something on stage that made him want to find me.  We were left alone to talk.  He stood there in silence.  I stood there glaring into the holes in his bag trying to get any sense of what his eyes might be trying to say.  I finally spoke up.

“What’s going on with you man, are you ok?”  More silence. 

A minute later I could see tear drops falling out the bottom of the bag.  We sat down, and for the next few minutes I watched tears stream out the bottom of the bag.  When he was finally able to speak I askedif he’d be willing to remove the bag so we could talk face-to-face.  He reluctantly agreed and for the next hour we talked…about life.  The conversation was good; for both of us.

This story reminds me of something very important; a word we hear often, but don’t talk about much, authenticity.  The story of the boy in the paper bag was an invitation to ask myself a tough question.  Am I an authentic person and am I living an authentic life?  Authentic means to be genuine, real, living in our true nature.  This is a very important word and one that I’m convinced is a game changer for all us.

Oddly enough, the paper bag bothered me because it reminded me of me.  I’ve never worn a paper bag over my head, however I have certainly, knowingly or unknowingly, worn many different masks to cover up what was inside me.  The meeting with the paper bag young man was just as much an eye opening for me as it was for him.  When he was faced with the fear of removing the bag and revealing his true self, I too had to look at what things I might be hiding behind.  It was a dose of reality for me and it was the first time I can remember consciously being faced with “inauthenticity.”  

Inauthenticity bothers me.  It bothers me in myself and it bothers me in others.  Why?  It bothers me because I’m not created to live a false life.  I’m not made to be a false version of myself.  I’m made to live in freedom, confident in who I am.  I’m created to live authentically. So when I see inauthenticity in myself, I’m bothered, my soul is uneasy, my conscience is pricked and I feel less free.  Why?  Because I know, deep down, I’m made for more.  And when I see inauthenticity in others I want freedom for them as well, because they, too, are created to live a true version of themselves.  We, all of us, are created for more! 

Why is living authentically important?  

Living authentically is not important-it’s essential! 

Authenticity is essential to living the life we were created to live, in true freedom and experiencing real happiness.  If we want to be free we must be authentic.  And if we want to be authentic we must be free.

God created us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).  We are hand made, unique, molded by the hands of God.  Each of us is sewn together to live authentically as our Creator made us to be.  Yet as good, unique and awesome as we are, we all know that we often feel distant from our true selves.  Our lives, through our sin and brokenness, begins to unravel; and over time we become a false version of ourselves (Genesis 3:1-8).  Our image, you could say, has some cracks.  When cracks start to pull apart the tapestry of our lives, authenticity grows more and more distant and we begin to cover up our lives with various things that allow us to survive, pretend and make-do.  Adam and Eve found leaves.  The guy in my audience found a paper bag.  We find our intellect, our success, our looks, our money, our dress, our sarcasm, our speech, our titles, our relationships, our hobbies, our possessions.  We often hide behind these things, as Adam and Eve hid in the forest.  And these things begin to define us.  I’m no longer Paul, God’s Son, I’m Paul, the (athlete, speaker, husband, writer . . .) fill in the blank.  Adam and Eve defined themselves as naked, we define ourselves as something other than who we truly are.   

God is not satisfied for us to live our lives as a lesser version of ourselves.  Godsearched for Adam and Eve, longing to find them, to be in relationship with them and to remind them of who they really were. (Genesis 3:9).  God does this with us as well;  He calls us back to himself so He can make us new again, restore us, and remind us of who we are.  

Living authentically, living the truest version of ourselves, is important because when we live authentically, we live in freedom.  And when we live in freedom we know what our purpose is and who we are.

How can we live authentically?

Authenticity starts with me!  

We often see the inauthenticity in our world and in others before we see it in ourselves.  I’m the first to admit how easy it is to spot something in someone else.  We are quick to notice, judge and spot faults in others.  Jesus said, “You hypocrite, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly the speck in your brother’s eye.”  Matt 7:5This only distracts us from what’s really going on… keeping the attention off ourselves.  In our desire for freedom and happiness I must admit that authenticity starts with me.  “The buck stops here and starts here.  We can’t change others, we can help, but the only person we can change is ourselves, through grace.  

My encounter with the paper bag kid made me look at myself.  At first this was shocking (not me!), then it became uncomfortable (who me?) then it become hard work (why me?) then it became good (now me . . .) then it became freedom (new me!).  I began a honest journey towards authenticity.  I say journey, because that’s what it is.   

The journey of authenticity begins when we look honestly at our lives, assess the damages and ask ourselves some important questions.  What defines me?  What’s important to me?  Who am I when I am alone?  Am I ok with who I am today?  When we do an honest assessment of our minds, hearts and souls we can be vulnerable with God.  However, when our fear, pride, worry, guilt and regret get in the way, we don’t allow our hearts to turn to Him, and we close ourselves to the Grace God offers to us.  This Grace, God’s presence, gives us the courage to begin the journey and stay on the path of authenticity.  

The journey of authenticity is ultimately a journey to freedom and allowing God to heal us of the things that define us.  We are most free when we are defined by God and who He made us to be.  In turn, our new found freedom in God allows us to live in our true nature…an authentic version of ourselves.  

Be who you are and you will change your world!