Labels. We all wear them. The things people have spoken about us or to us have stuck to us and changed the way we live. For some it is trying to outlive the labels, and others try to live up to them. Everyone of us has experienced the labels our world puts on people.
As humans we love to categorize people, and have them fit neatly into a slot that makes sense in our minds. The standard we use for people is usually ourselves. When people behave the way we want they are great people, and when they don’t we usually get upset. If people behave differently enough from us we categorize them as different and set them aside. We have labels for just about everyone we meet, and we relate to people based on the labels they have.
Growing up there were jocks and geeks, preps and Goths, punks, metal heads and grunge. But there are more than the social labels we wear. There are a lot of things spoken to us over the years that have labeled us as well. Useless, bum, jerk, loser, worthless, good for nothing, dumbass, and many others. The struggle to be yourself is especially hard for young people still discovering who they really are as they grow into adulthood. And the labels can be extremely hard to live with as evidenced by our teen suicide rates.
We are more than a label. And we don’t have to be the labels that others have placed on us. Even our parents placed labels on us as we grew up and were told to be something. Part of the journey of self discovery is learning to discern yourself from the labels. Under all the labels our world has placed on us is the real you and I. An extremely valuable person to find. One that Jesus thought was worth leaving heaven and dying for.
All of those labels have created ways of relating and interacting with our world, and many of them are learned behaviors and are not the real us. The journey is to help us decide which ones are not us and which ones are. As we discover ourselves under the labels we can then begin to express ourselves for who we really are. It isn’t going to be an easy path to take because some of the labels we wear have a depth of pain attached to them that will take some working through. But the rewards for doing so are incredible. Don’t let the worry of what you may discover keep you from searching. There is a great wealth inside each one of us if we are willing to look for and discover who we really are.
Knowing yourself is something that usually goes overlooked in our society. It goes overlooked more often in our churches. For years I was taught that we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus. These are the words of Jesus in Matthew 16 “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And I have always understood it to mean that everything I am disappears and I follow Jesus. I know many others who have had the same understanding. I don’t matter, and I must follow Him.
It is a wrong interpretation of the words of Jesus. Because the goal of Christianity is for us to know God. The Westminster Catechism states “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” But our ability to know God hinges on our ability to know ourselves. Thomas à Kempis argued that “a humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning,” and Augustine’s prayer was “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”
God desires to be known by us. The whole of scripture is the story of God reaching out to humanity and revealing Himself to us and calling us to know Him personally and completely. He has gone to great lengths to show His love and character for us and to invite us to come closer and know Him more. One of the major limiting factors of this is our lack of understanding of ourselves. When God reveals Himself to us, He also reveals us. The goal of Christianity is for the life of Christ to be made manifest in us, or for us to be like Jesus in what we do, say and think. We do this by knowing God and allowing Him to show us the areas of our lives that are not like Him.
Which means that we need to know ourselves, and be willing to look at the things about ourselves that we often try to ignore. “Christian spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Both, therefore, have an important place in Christian spirituality. There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God. John Calvin wrote, “Nearly the whole of sacred doctrine consists in these two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Benner, David G. (2009-09-20). The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery
David Benner also wrote “Focusing on God while failing to know ourselves deeply may produce an external form of piety, but it will always leave a gap between appearance and reality.”
Unfortunately this is the state that most Christians live in. We have an appearance that we work on, especially when we are gathering with other Christians, and only we know the true reality of the condition of our hearts. Which is why the world objects to Christianity saying that “we are a bunch of hypocrites.” We can deeply know God, as promised by Scripture, and we can know ourselves. Jesus thought you and I were valuable enough to die for. As we grow in our understanding of ourselves, and allow God to speak into our lives and show Himself the transformation will be glorious, and people can say of us as they did Peter and John “The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13 NLT The journey is never ever to late to take.
“We all live searching for that one possible way of being that carries with it the gift of authenticity. We are most conscious of this search for identity during adolescence, when it takes front stage. At this stage of life we try on identities like clothing, looking for a style of being that fits with how we want to be seen. But even long after adolescence has passed, most adults know the occasional feeling of being a fraud—a sense of being not what they pretend to be but rather precisely what they pretend not to be.” Benner, David G.
In a world of fakes we all search for authenticity. We live in a society that prides itself on conformity. Our styles are led by Hollywood and popular music. We work usually at becoming what will make us accepted, instead of what we truly are. Everything from the clothes we where to the homes and cars we buy. Even the friends we have in our lives. We fit in as much as we can, and do our best to learn and conform to the rules. And we have all tasted the rejection when we don’t fit in.
People have always admired authenticity in others. We all have hero’s that led from who they were and strove not to fit what society told them to be, but instead discovered themselves and entered life from a place of confidence and security which drew many people to them. People like Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa. People who just lived life knowing who they were and rising to the challenge to be themselves no matter what happened.
Authenticity is defined as;
- real or genuine : not copied or false
- true and accurate
- not false or imitation:real, actual
- true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character
- being really what it seems to be
via Authentic | Definition of Authentic by Merriam-Webster
We all have the ability to be authentic, and to make a serious impact on our world and our society. But only if we make the journey to discover who we truly are can we actually be authentic. Making the journey allows us to strip away all the things that family and society formed in and around us that are not us. At times this can be painful because some of our actions are determined by protecting us from painful memories and situations. As we journey we begin to separate who we actually are from who we were made to be. We may find our choices changing. We may even begin to actually like ourselves.
All of this happens as we make the effort to discover the roots of our behaviors, and to start making choices based on who we are and not who we were told to become. Jesus was a man who deeply knew Himself. There was a complete confidence in Him that allowed Him to face every obstacle and difficulty. His purpose and presence was based in who He was. And regardless of if you believe He was God or not He changed His world powerfully.
It is within us all to be world changers. To seize the moments of life given to us and to live them for all they are worth. This can happen as we discover ourselves and truly become authentic.