What does authenticity look like?

What does it mean to be authentic? We spend much energy pursuing this elusive gem, but it is tricky to define for what, exactly, we are looking. Is it to be fully ourselves in the presence of others? Is it to be honest or broken or humble?

This search for authenticity is a worthy pursuit. But I fear that our lack of definition for the term has taken us down the wrong path. Authentic seems to have become more synonymous with the negative than the positive. When I lay bare the mistakes in my past and the need for grace in my present, when I cry in despair or scream in anger, I am being authentic.

But when I shout for joy, when gratitude seems to overflow from my core, when peace is my perspective on the future, how am I perceived then? I am perhaps lucky or fake or hopelessly optimistic or sheltered behind my rose colored glasses, but not authentic.

Authenticity is genuineness. When I am truly authentic it means I am honest about the whole of my life. The bad and the good. The extraordinary and the ordinary.

It is from this place of honesty that community functions at its best. Each of us need to be authentic storytellers of our lives.

We need to talk about the times in life when even a single word of praise to God takes great effort. Times when we sit on a precarious edge, one step away from stumbling over our anxieties and falling into the deep dark hole of our doubt.

And in those moments, we need others to be authentic, too. We need to hear others share openly about their hope and joy.

Because sometimes the praise flows most easily on behalf of someone else.

That is what David invites us to in Psalm 34.

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. –Psalm 34:1-3

Something wonderful has happened to David. And instead of being afraid to share that with those who are downcast, wondering how the news may be received, David runs to them first. David invites the afflicted to share his joy.

Psalm 34 invites those whose wells of faith have run dry to drink from David’s overflowing gratitude.

When David felt abandoned by the Lord, he shared his woes with those who could help lift him up. And now that he has been rescued, he shares his story of deliverance with those who need to be lifted.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. - Psalm 34:4, 6

David shows us what authenticity looks like. He shares his struggles and shares his joys, always looking to God in the midst of both. And through the Psalms, he continually invites others to join him on that journey.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Psalm 34:8-10

When we share the good things God is doing in our lives, we provide nourishment for those whose souls are hungry. We remind them that God is good, and that they should not stop seeking Him in the midst of their troubles.

So when we are the hungry ones, let’s be authentic. And when we are the ones who can point the way to a God who satisfies, let’s be authentic then, too.

Then, perhaps, as a community, we can exalt His name together.

How do you define authenticity?

Walk through the Psalms is a series reflecting on the beautiful and timeless poetry found in the middle of the Bible. It is an intentional study of God’s Word, grounded in the belief that God gave us the Bible so we could meditate on it, whether that takes us through inspiring or frustrating territory.

Learning to be Comfortable with Discomfort

I did it again last night. I stayed up late. Way late. Like, went to bed in the morning late. So today, my eyelids are heavy and my arms are limp. I am exhausted.

I wish I could say I stayed up to work on some great project. I didn’t. I spent a lot of time wasting time.

I avoided going to bed.

My husband is on a business trip and I hate going to bed alone.

I used to think it was because of my over-active imagination. The way my mind wanders to the impossible possibilities of intruders and danger.

But that’s not the real reason. It just took awhile for me to admit to myself what it really was.

I stayed up late to avoid discomfort. I didn’t want to miss him.

For the most part, I can make it through the day fine when he is gone. Sure, I wish I had extra help. And I miss conversations and laughter and presence. But it’s tolerable.

What I dread is that moment when I lay my head on the pillow, waiting to fall asleep. In that moment, the quiet and the aloneness is just a little too real. When I stay up late, I become exhausted. I fall asleep instantly and avoid the prickly feelings.

I avoid discomfort a lot.

I eat regularly, so I can avoid hunger. I keep Facebook open, so I can avoid loneliness. I watch TV, so I can avoid boredom. I keep myself busy, so I can avoid the uneasy feelings that come in stillness and quiet.

This avoiding makes me wonder.

I am so comfortable with my life. It is a great life. I am grateful for my family. My friends. This blog. My home. Neighborhood flowers. Great conversations over good coffee.

I am grateful and I am comfortable.

But now, I wonder.

Am I comfortable because of how God has blessed me? Or am I comfortable because I avoid the uncomfortable?

Likely, it’s both. And I wonder how I am missing out on God’s purposes for me.

This question makes me think of physical fitness. If I avoid physical discomfort, I am not healthy. Exercise is uncomfortable. Stretched muscles ache. Well-used lungs heave. Bodies sweat. No pain, no gain, as they say.

If I avoid the discomforts of life, what does that do to the health of my soul?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. – Matthew 5:4,6

Do I miss out on being filled because I avoid emptiness?

We glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

Do I miss out on hope because I avoid suffering?

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  - Matthew 25:24-26

Do I miss out on Jesus because I avoid self-denial?

I think I’m going to have to sit with these questions for awhile. They are uncomfortable, but for once, I’m not going to avoid them.

I’m going to sit in the discomfort and trust that God meets me there.