As I write this I am listening to the webcast from the Festival of Homiletics, a continuing education opportunity for preachers. The particular webcast on at this time is a sermon by Otis Moss III, the pastor of Trinity Church of Christ in Chicago. One of the things he said in this sermon is, “Don’t live into the boxes of society. Live into your authenticity. To live in any other way is an insult to God.” (paraphrased). This got me to thinking. Really it should get us all to thinking. Are we living into our authenticity? Are we embracing the people we are in the way God created us to be? Or are we living into the boxes of what someone else says we should be? Are we putting on masks, especially when we are in public? Are we living our lives in a manner that pleases God or are we insulting God?
I think this is one of the biggest lessons we all have to learn in life. I know one of the biggest struggles for me as I was growing up was fitting in with my peers. I was smart, but I was painfully shy. I was in church, Girl Scouts, band, and 4-H instead of the cool kids club, the pretty people, the athletic elites, or the party patrol. I could count the number of close friends I had in school on the fingers of one hand and still have fingers on that hand left over. Looking back and knowing today’s definition of bullying, it is apparent that I was a victim of that activity (although I didn’t know it at the time). In spite of it all, I think I grew up to be a pretty well-adjusted adult. But, I had to embrace my truth and the person God created me to be to do it.
Somewhere along the way I stopped being so bothered by the idea that I needed to check off everyone else’s boxes for my life. I think that was when I finally had the courage to follow the path that God called me to. And it was only then that I finally started to experience the peace and freedom that God created me to have. Those of you who know me probably know that I came to the ministry after a twenty-five year career in engineering and hazardous waste management. What I haven’t told many people is that I took a 60% pay cut the day I entered full-time ministry. Unless something happens to make me the pastor of a mega-church, which I have no aspirations to be, I will never see the salary I had when I was an engineer as long as I continue in this line of work. I have also never worked harder in my life than I do as a pastor. Yet I also never felt that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing until I became a pastor. I finally found my calling when I stopped checking off society’s boxes that said material wealth and creature comforts were the things I should be aspiring toward. I finally found my passion when I took off the mask I was putting on and exposed my bare face to the world.
My journey of transformation has not been easy. Sometimes I still struggle. I still have a tendency to think, “What will other people think or say about me if I do this.” At times I still have to intentionally choose my true self over the masked person I think the world wants to see. I hope and I pray that this intentionality one day becomes my first nature. That I can wake up to be the person God created me to be without having to think about it first. I hope and pray that I get closer to that every day and that I am pleasing God with my life choices and lifestyle rather than insulting God.
Two scriptures come to mind as I think about this. The first is 1 Samuel 16:7, which comes out of the story of Samuel’s anointing of the boy, David, to be Israel’s king. It is, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” The other is a Psalm from that very same David. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:14-16) (Both NIV). We all were fearfully and wonderfully made by the one and only God who loves us and who wants us to know that love and live with and in that love.
The world looks at our outward appearance. Too often we thing the verdict is “not good enough.” We feel like we need to put on a mask, to hide what is inside, just so we can fit in and maybe have a shot at a verdict of OK. God – my God and your God – looks beneath all of that. God looks at the state of our hearts and calls us perfect and beloved. No mask is necessary when we live into God’s perfection as our authentic selves. I don’t know about you, but today I will choose God’s perfect authenticity for me instead of the mask that will allow me to check society’s boxes. And tomorrow I will wake up and intentionally choose it again.