Authenticity brings tension. This quality can become a license for a person to say whatever comes to their mind. In reality, saying whatever you want may never get to the heart of the issue. On the other hand, authenticity takes time. Some use that fact as a way of prolonging getting known by others. We walk a tightrope in a community of people of not enough and too much.
In my role, I receive the regular feedback that goes like this, “My friends or group don’t go deep enough. We remain on the surface level.” The desire of realness wells deep within us but getting there means becoming vulnerable. You and I want the right people who will not shame us in our weaknesses, accepts us where we are and challenge us to grow. If we face this, how much more can we understand others in this process?
The Apostle Paul makes a radical statement in Ephesians 4:15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
Paul places truth and love hand in hand. The previous verses of this section speak of the reality of Christ in us. Followers of Christ experience His grace in growing maturity. That means authenticity comes out of the motivation of love and expresses the truth for the benefits others. Two seemingly contrasting actions brought together by Christ at work in us.
In a healthy community, we create safety, not comfort. Safety looks to create an environment for people to get challenged, but they feel protected. Comfort esteems keeping the status quo. Authenticity becomes as much about what people say as we leave unsaid. Saying versus not saying comes out of the wisdom of safety, not the hope of comfort.
Craig Groeschel speaks about authenticity in regards to social media in #Struggle. What he says here about taking off the veil and experiencing authenticity can extend outside social media and apply to our relationships with each other:
So yes, we should remove our veils, and tell the truth. But social media is not the place to bare all! Be yourself, but don’t feel like you have to share everything you’re feeling. Being authentic is not about being brutally honest and confrontational about everything on your mind. But by all means – at the right time, with the right people, and when you’re face to face – drop the veil completely. If you don’t, you’ll always be longing for something more (pg. 81)
As you look to experience authenticity and depth in your community, I would offer four questions to start the discussion:
1. How do I process my life?
Process means understanding actuality. Some of us run from that, so we distract ourselves or even stifle ourselves. Other’s of us vent out the problems of our lives too much. This question starts with prayer. Beginning with prayer allows to slow down in quietness first. Then we can look to journal or even find helpful ways to get perspective. The heart of this question attempts to understand how we respond to the positives and negatives of life in regards to ourselves in others.
2. What needs to be said and when does it need to be said?
We can vacillate between sharing too much and not enough. This question gets the motivation of the what and when. Sometimes you and I need space for people to listen to our frustrations. Other times we need to process on our own first and then speak. It works the same with others. Often, people want us to listen first and talk later. God’s grace gives us the wisdom to see the perspective of another so that we can create safety and build authenticity.
3. Who do I have permission to speak the truth in love?
Relationships take intentional investment. A person has to know that we love them and want the best for them before we speak the difficult truths. If we need to say the challenging truth, we need permission from the person receiving it.
4. Who has permission in my life to speak the truth in love?
A question like this acts as a litmus test. Many of us have no problem speaking the truth, but we have a difficult time receiving it. Authenticity forms when people feel that you can accept the challenging truth. We model this for each other and build trust.
How have you experienced authenticity in community? Share in the comment section below.
Photo credit by Martin Wessely.