by Alexa Hess
Recently, I was listening to a podcast with one of my favorite writers as the guest. During the podcast, this writer shared his experience dealing with social anxiety. A wave of relief washed over me in hearing that this writer I appreciate and admire so much deals with the same anxiety I often experience. I don’t know about you, but it feels incredibly comforting to know that you’re not alone in a certain struggle or area of weakness. Yet, sometimes I do feel alone because I find that a lot of people, myself included, wrestle with being open about our struggles and shortcomings.
We live in a world that hides rather than shows imperfection. Instagram and Snapchat filters make it possible to completely change how one looks, removing any trace of wrinkle or spot. Someone could be having a hard day, but post a picture of themselves smiling to make you think they are doing just fine. A home can be in total disarray, but a snapshot of one clean area can make you think their home is pristine. Scrolling on social media can be dangerous as it can lead us to believe that all these people live perfect lives, making us feel ashamed of our imperfect house, pimpled skin, or inward battles.
Our culture’s emphasis on perfection can lead us to hide out of fear and embarrassment. We can avoid inviting people into our home because we don’t want them to see our cluttered counters or unvacuumed floors. We can layer makeup on our skin because we don’t want our coworkers to see the bags under our eyes from sleepless nights. The more we hide our struggles, the more we can believe the lie that we are the only ones who struggle in this particular way.
But the truth is, we are never truly alone in our struggles, weaknesses, and sufferings. Because we live in a fallen world, each one of us struggles with sin and the effects of sin. No one person is immune to imperfection or infirmity. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. When we accept that weakness is part of the fallen condition, we won’t feel as ashamed to display our weaknesses or admit our weaknesses to others.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” While this mutual connection could be a shared sense of humor or hobby, this mutual connection can also apply to a shared struggle or weakness. Like my mutual connection with a favorite writer, relief and joy wash over us when we realize we are not the only ones with this particular hardship or insecurity. But for this experience to occur, we need to voice our problems, pains, and weaknesses. We need to be unashamedly authentic.
A time in my life where I learned to embrace authenticity was when I worked in student ministry. I came into my position thinking that I needed to look like I had it all together and had to know the right thing to say at all times. I thought that I wouldn’t be taken as seriously if I stumbled over my words when teaching. But over time, I realized that I connected with students better when I was silly instead of serious. I was able to help students feel like they weren’t alone by admitting my own doubts or difficulties with reading the Bible. Allowing myself to be open, honest, and vulnerable with students allowed students to be open, honest, and vulnerable with me. Authenticity breeds authenticity.
I can think of so many examples where God has used the people in my life to teach me to be honest and authentic. Moms who laughed about the glue in their hair from their kids taught me not to be so easily embarrassed. Friends who allowed their tears to flow in front of me taught me to express my emotions. Older women who brought me into their home even though their house wasn’t clean taught me how discipleship doesn’t have to look pretty. All of these teachable moments came about because those around me didn’t hide what was real and true. They were simply and unashamedly authentic.
Of course, being authentic with others doesn’t mean you have to divulge all that you are feeling and experiencing with every person you meet. There is wisdom and discernment that come with expressing ourselves. But it does mean that you can be honest and real with the people God has placed in your life. God can use even what is small to you to impact another greatly.
Being unashamedly authentic also doesn’t mean that we boast about our sins; rather, we humble ourselves as we confess them and open ourselves up to the sanctifying work (which means becoming Christlike) of the Holy Spirit. That said, God can use your honesty about a sin struggle to encourage another to keep fighting against their struggle with sin. He can use your openness about spilling coffee on your shirt to encourage another to not worry so much about their appearance. God uses our moments of honesty and authenticity to encourage others in their life and faith.
And as we admit our weaknesses to one another, we can look to the perfection of Christ together. We can say to one another, “we are so not perfect, but this is why we need Jesus!” And then we can pray for one another in our areas of struggle and weakness, asking for God to help us rely on His grace and strength. We don’t have to hide our struggles, so let us be unashamedly authentic, knowing that it is through Christ’s death on the cross that God removed our sin and shame so that we can live in His righteousness as we spur one another on in truth.