Connecting to God Authentically
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”- John Steinbeck
Last Christmas, my niece, Madison, wrote to Santa for a pogo stick—and, goodness gracious, she wanted it desperately.
For hours on end, Madison practiced bouncing up and down after unwrapping her treasured present. She is a tenacious, just like her mom. She would fall. She would hop and teeter to the left and then the right. Initially, Madison found more frustration than success.
Madison, an 8 year-old at the time, would coach herself as to what was not working and how she needed to adjust her stance and technique. Occasionally, she would whisper motivational quotes to herself. Eventually she mastered the pogo stick, but she never realized I had been listening and observing her tenacity. I hope she would have done the same exact things if she knew I was watching.
I want Madison to feel so safe with me that she neither loses, filters, nor minimizes her authenticity in front of me.
In last week’s devotional, I wrote: “Our perfectionism—an idealized litany of standards that rob us of experiencing true safety—will produce shame.”
I want her to avoid perfectionism at all costs, which means there will be a time when I have to protect her from my expectations and my criticisms. I never want her to believe she is better off hiding her genuineness than unleashing it in front of me. We see this type of protecting love wonderfully scattered throughout the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
I am enamored with Jesus’ ministry. Every person with whom Jesus interacted seemed to walk away from their exchange having experienced a major transformation: Zacchaeus realized he was a community member (Luke 19), the Samaritan woman at the well learned she was free from shame (John 4), the woman who pulled the hem of Jesus’ garment discovered she wasn’t dirty (Luke 8), the woman who introduced us to the alabaster moment discovered she was just as profound and powerful as any Pharisee (Matthew 26). Jesus was in the business of reminding us of our God-created identities. He wanted us to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were created as the imago Dei (as the image of God).
Jesus, in his famous Beatitudes sermon, stated a very simple phrase that has the power to deconstruct our pillars of shame, tear down our facades, and assuage our fears. It resounds with tones of the imago Dei, defining our inherent role as God’s masterpiece:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
One interpretation of this passage claims that “pure in heart” refers to our motivations. But what if the purity of heart that Jesus mentions is the purity of our internal disposition? What if “pure in heart” refers to a shameless self-understanding or a solidified and confident self-perception? The Beatitudes seem to center on a person’s disposition, rather than how a person behaves.
Jesus’ one-liner could suggest that the disposition of a person pure in heart may be a reflective mirror, allowing us to see ourselves as God’s wondrous creations—an identity that shifts the manner in which we present authenticity to the world, and the way we bond to God. When we see ourselves as God’s masterpieces, we have the opportunity to see God in ourselves and each other.
Wouldn’t it be silly to try to hide the painting from the painter?
Here’s the liberating truth: We cannot fabricate authenticity. In fact, one of my favorite theologians, Richard Rohr, wrote a statement that transformed the ways I understand human authenticity. He writes:
“We have to let go of the passing names by which we have tried to name ourselves and become the ‘naked self before the naked God.’ That will always feel like dying, because we are so attached to our passing names and identities. Your bare, undecorated self is already and forever the beloved child of God. When you can rest there, you will begin to share in the very ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).”
Falling in love with the way God loves us and being bold enough to love ourselves with the same tenacity is the key that unlocks the painter’s masterpiece. Expressing our unrestricted authenticity gives others the permission to know and see our truest essence. We will forget what invisibility and isolation feel like. We’ll feel safe to create bonds that stands the test of time. In this way, authenticity gives us the power to create the relational intimacy we’ve craved.
It’s easier than it sounds. Authenticity is vulnerability. Being bold enough to show someone your unfettered and undecorated self means you have the stamina to withstand judgment. In this context, we participate in an exchange of sacred vulnerability, whereby our raw and genuine expressions not only expose our authenticities, but also invite others to do the same. You will discover relational safety—a freedom to genuinely encourage another to embrace their own essence. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.
God rejoices in us even when we don’t even realize. Whether on a pogo stick, in a relationship, or in a moment of pure delight, God connects with the pure hearts God created.
Drop the façade and pick up your resilience. Whether you bounce with tenacity or talk to yourself with words of self-encouragement, God wants to bond with the child God created, not the façades we produce. Trust the authenticity of God’s love and you’ll discover an invitation to live and love undivided within yourself.
Questions for this week's devotional:
Have you grown more accustomed to protecting yourself from rejection than protecting your authenticity?
How might you hide your authenticity from others and God?
In order to reconnect with your pure heart, what façades, fears, or internal shaming narratives need to be addressed?