An Audience of One

A recent sermon on Luke 20:1-9 held an unexpected message. Jesus had been teaching the people in the temple courts when the religious leaders challenged his authority. The sermon focused not on Jesus’s response to the chief priests and teachers of the law but on why these leaders responded to Jesus as they did.

“Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?”

He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.”

So they answered, “We don’t know where it was from.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

The religious leaders did not answer Jesus honestly. They crafted their response to the crowd. If they had questioned John the Baptist’s authority, the people would have been angry.

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.

William Shakespeare

The response of the religious leaders reminds me of today’s politicians who say one thing among themselves but say the opposite to the public. Politicians constantly play to their audience, sometimes to an audience of one.

The pastor said we all make this mistake. I have to admit that I am guilty of this. We pay too much attention to what the crowd thinks of us. We practice “impression management,” trying to maintain a desired image of ourselves. Perhaps we act as if we have all the answers. We share the most attractive pictures of ourselves. We share our successes and not our failures.

Nowhere is impression management more evident than on social media, a stage where people perform in a socially acceptable way. Social media does not make you a truer version of yourself and it won’t make you happier. Social media often makes people feel inadequate compared to friends who seem to have it all.

The lesson is to make God your audience. When you live your life with God as your audience, you are free to be the real you. He sees both the best and worst versions of us and still loves us unconditionally.


Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash

Free to be real

via Daily Prompt: Authentic

When I saw that the word authentic was the daily prompt word today, it immediately brought to mind my New Year’s resolution. On December 29, 2017, I published a post called “Free to be real” on another blog. This is what I wrote about being authentic four months ago:

A few months ago, after my brother-in-law Greg passed away, I played dress-up with his granddaughter, Macy. My sister Amy took a picture of us. I thought about sharing the photo on social media at the time because it captured a fun moment but I didn’t because I don’t like the way I look. When I jut out my chin, an unconscious gesture, I accentuate the strong jaws I inherited from my paternal grandfather. Today, I’m willing to share the goofy photo because life is teaching me that I’d rather be flawed and real than perfect and fake – both inside and out.

I have always been reserved, holding back from expressing myself freely. It’s a protective instinct. I have to really, really trust that I am safe with people to let my hair down. Although I am more comfortable expressing myself by writing, I still censor myself too much. I filter out what I don’t want other people to see, holding back what I really think. I control what I say or do, especially to avoid criticism. When I censor myself, I conform to the expectations of others instead of sharing my unique perspective. Sometimes I keep my thoughts to myself because what I have to say might offend or turn off one friend or another. Not appropriate for atheists. Not appropriate for Evangelicals. Too boring. Too weird. Too much navel-gazing.

Censoring myself to avoid disappointing or offending or boring others is not extending the same grace to myself that I would to someone else. I don’t expect or want other people to be a cookie-cutter version of me so why should I try to be like anyone else? Self-censorship isn’t being real and authentic. By editing out parts of me, I present an incomplete image, just as in keeping an unflattering photo to myself, I hid my playful side. 

I will never be perfect and that’s okay

Like everyone else, I have a public personality or persona. My persona is the social facade that reflects the role I play in life. It is the image people expect me to uphold, the image I present to meet the demands of my environment or the situation I am in. My persona is the way I want other people to see me. 

The persona is a mask disguising the real self. It often represents an idealized image or role. Some of us have a professional buttoned-down persona, others want to be seen as the life of the party, others maintain a facade of toughness, and still others resist being typecast. Your reputation is based on the impression people have of you, so in that sense, image is everything.

When the persona is false, based on pretending to be something you’re not, image is nothing. Pretending to know everything when no one does. Pretending to have a perfect life when no one does. Basing your image on things that are superficial – like money or the way you look. That kind of image is meaningless. We may fool a few people with a false persona but perceptive people see through the act whether we want them to or not. 

Spiritually speaking, people who put a lot of effort into protecting and maintaining a chosen persona have a lot more inner work to do to face the truth about themselves. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that you should be really careful about any idealized role or image because they are hard to live up to and can trap you in a “lifelong delusion.”

I have to admit that I do have an idealized image. She is a Nice Person, a Good Person, like my grandma. I want to be seen as kind, gentle, and considerate – the kind of person who doesn’t step on toes or make anyone feel bad. I want the world to see me as someone who is never angry and never says anything bad about anyone else. The real me falls far short of my ideal.

I’ve always been turned off by people who are pretentious, fake, phony, or hypocritical. I’d rather be around people who admit that they don’t have all the answers, that they don’t do everything right, that they don’t always look good. I’d rather be that kind of person myself.

I have learned that my idealized self is not worth protecting because 1) it isn’t achievable and 2) although I will never be perfectly good, God loves me anyway. Francesca Battistelli’s song, Free to Be Me, sums it up well:

When I was just a girl I thought I had it figured out. My life would turn out right, and I’d make it here somehow. But things don’t always come that easy and sometime I would doubt.

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender. Got a couple rips in my jeans. Try to fit the pieces together but perfection is my enemy. On my own I’m so clumsy but on Your shoulders I can see, I’m free to be me.

I have nothing to prove. I’m free to be the real me.

I knew when I resolved to be the real me four months ago, that it was not without risk. There is the risk of not being accepted. There is the risk of looking stupid. There is the risk of disappointing others and even disappointing yourself. Being authentic is worth the risk.


If We’re Honest

A Facebook friend posted a Lessons Learned in Life meme that says: “As we get older, we become more honest and don’t have the patience for pointless drama.” I am beginning to resemble that statement. When you are young, you can afford to be inefficient with your time. When more than half your life is gone, you don’t want to waste it on pointless drama or pretenses.

Before I decided to let go of pointless drama, I would tell myself to put up with people who are obnoxious or offensive. Be patient and maybe they’ll change. But now I feel free to let them go. Why waste time hoping they’ll change their stripes? As Maya Angelou said, when people show you who they are, believe them.

In the past, I often held back from expressing myself honestly and openly because I worried about what other people think of me. I tried too hard to please other people instead of being true to myself. A few months ago, I resolved to do my best to be authentic, even at the risk of failing to meet the expectations of other people.

I have disappointed people since I made the decision to be more authentic. To be honest, it makes me feel bad about myself. In being myself, I’m not the exact person other people want me to be. In being myself, I sometimes make choices that other people don’t agree with. But I will never regret being my authentic self. I’ve learned to accept my brokenness. There’s mercy waiting on the other side.

If We’re Honest (Francesca Battistelli)
Truth is harder than a lie
The dark seems safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide
I’m a mess and so are you
We’ve built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do
Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest
If we’re honest
Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not
Living life afraid of getting caught
There is freedom found when we lay our secrets down at the cross, at the cross

via Daily Prompt: Inefficient

I Don’t Insist on Much

I don’t insist on much. I don’t insist on being right. People have a right to disagree with me. Even if I’m absolutely certain the other person is wrong, I’m not interested in engaging in a battle of wills. I don’t insist on having my way because it is not all about me. I’m easy to please and open to compromise. I am willing to give up some of what I want for the good of others. But I absolutely insist on certain things.

I insist on honesty and integrity. Most of us are guilty of telling little white lies. I can forgive people for the occasional lie. But truth matters. And when a person lies continually, it proves that they can’t be trusted. Integrity is an essential part of good character and it is the foundation for good relationships.

I insist on respectfulness. Respect is a two-way street; if you treat people with respect, they are more likely to respond in kind. Respect is treating people the way you want to be treated. I admit that I lose respect for people who behave badly and when a person loses my respect, they have to earn it back. But even if I don’t respect a person, I still believe in treating them with kindness and consideration.

I insist on genuineness. I have always been turned off by people who seem fake, who pretend to be something they are not. A genuine person is real and authentic. A genuine person doesn’t feel the need to impress people with what they have or who they are. You can trust that a genuine person speaks from the heart. Genuine people possess the humility that makes them more relatable and human.

I don’t insist on being first. I don’t insist on sitting at the best table or having my food prepared to order. I don’t insist on having the best things or having everything in perfect order. I do insist on preserving and upholding the values that really matter.

via Daily Prompt: Insist