A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song. ~Joan Walsh Anglund
I hopscotch over splayed crab apples on the sidewalk. More of a frustrated, stumbling tiptoe, really, to save my shoes — and so my carpet — from the red stain.
And then I look overhead at remaining gems among variegated autumn leaves, and my heart catches. Would I wish away such beauty only because I’ll need to put more muscle into vacuuming this week?
The temptation to edit this broken world, our broken selves, is strong — to highlight (or fabricate) only what’s good and delete everything inconvenient, painful, difficult. Our pace and habits and technology only intensify that desire; we can manipulate with one touch of a screen, one careless word. The boundaries are usually clear, whether or not we choose to heed them. Unfortunately, the lines aren’t always so obvious.
Consider the difference between photojournalism and fine art photography. Some situations demand facts; anything else would be disingenuous. Other times, though, creative freedom should have rein.
A photographer carries a spray bottle. She adds “dew” to the rose for her perfect shot. Has she deceived viewers, or has she brought to life her dreamed scene? In my art, I haven’t felt liberty to alter subjects beforehand or foundational elements afterward. At the same time, I’m untroubled by creating ambience. I need to tell the story of a photo without words — to invite my audience to connect with my emotions and give voice to their own. So while I’m wary of overreaching in my work, I can’t say another artist is misrepresenting simply because she takes a different approach.
If people have varying opinions about artistic expression — art in all forms plays a leading role in our humanity, though still, just a role — how much more difficult is it to appropriately edit our very lives? To commit to course correction yet press ahead without arrogance or pretense?
Tension lives in being the best version of ourself without polishing to the point of deceit or hypocrisy or intentionally making someone feel less than. There’s everything right with rejoicing in who we are as God’s masterpiece — in caring well for ourselves. But vanity never has a legitimate seat at the table.
The man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God. ~Thomas Merton
Misplaced humility isn’t welcome, either. “God is great and you are a worm may sound all humble and pious initially, but the ‘woe is you’ part still puts the emphasis squarely on the frailty of man instead of the faithfulness of God,” writes Lisa Harper. She continues:
It may appear to be the opposite of arrogance, but it’s actually just narcissism in a nicer outfit — because it’s still all about us. Genuine Christian humility shifts the focus from our innate worminess to our Redeemer’s amazing grace.
We are our most sincere selves — living an authentic Christian life — when we trust in Christ’s provision and point others to Him instead of ourselves. When we give ourselves grace for failure, grace to grow, instead of trying to rewrite or touch up circumstances so we appear to come out ahead. When we serve as safe space so others don’t feel the need to overedit or censor in our presence. When we can open-heartedly rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
I once shared with a friend that I was struggling over a project and was afraid I’d fail. She said dismissively, “Oh, you always do fine.” No, I don’t. I have fears like everyone else, and at that moment I needed a soft place for my heart to land. Maybe similar conversations have shut you down, and now you feel your only choice is to offer a perfect façade — to never let anyone know your sincere self because of the damage they might cause.
No one has it all together, though. What unnecessary hurt we cause when we pretend otherwise! This world holds no satisfactory answers to tears and hand-wringing and doubts and agony. And for each sorrow and uncertainty we bear, other souls face similar struggles.
True compassion — shared contending, shared wrestling, often in companionable silence — brings greater comfort than illusions of flawlessness or pat, ill-advised answers.
Welcome to the darkness. There are more questions than answers in this place. But you’ll find good company among those who understand how little we understand — but still hold on to God’s hand. ~Dr. Timothy Laniak
Some of my most joyful moments of greatest learning have been spent in the gracious company of those who live without pretense. They lean freely into how God has crafted them, gifted them, ordained their journeys, and they genuinely want to put others at ease.
They pursue healthy balance in all they do, but they don’t revise their lives to impress anyone; their deepest longing is to know you and be known by you! They keep an extra pair of slippers in the front closet for the friend with perpetually cold feet. They meet you at the door unashamedly in mismatched sweats. They’d feel horrible if you worried about your own mismatched sweats or the crumbs on your kitchen floor when they drop by. Who needs fancy?! Come for tomato soup and grilled cheese!
There is laughter and hope and a taste of heavenly fellowship with such friends. And there is peace in accepting each day, each moment, each circumstance with open hands — reacting and moving forward in humble acceptance, relinquishment, and growth rather than futile overediting.
Whether in joy or sorrow, may you have the courage to be an honest representation of yourself because you are, foremost, representing the One you serve. “We’re not here to make an impression — we’re here to make a difference.”