Just Be Myself? Yeah, Right.
The benefit of being a hard-core introvert is that, by existing within the confines of my comfort zone for most of my teenage years, I've avoided the need to "be myself" to the same degree as those around me. With my family and my small, precious, amazing circle of friends, being myself comes fairly naturally. For a long time, though, that stopped being true in different contexts. Instead of learning to be myself at church groups, among new people, or in spontaneous situations, I just avoided all of the above.
It was safer.
It was comfier.
Stay quiet. Keep to the sidelines.
It served me well for a while. Well in the sense that I dodged a whole lot of awkwardness, along with a whole lot of relationships, enjoyment, memory-making, and general personal growth. So, yeah. I guess it didn't serve me that well.
Which is why we're making changes.
I will cut myself some slack. The past years have been difficult and my knee-jerk response was to retreat from the world. To hide and hope that God would deliver a fulfilling life to the doorstep of my hermitage instead of calling me out into the real world and my purpose in it. Instead, He reminded me again and again that hiding, retreating into myself, was not what He wanted for me. But the courage to step out was something I couldn't find alone; I needed a change of scenery to show me how much joy God had in store for me, and how much brighter life could be when I gave all my fears and insecurities to Him.
Be yourself. How many teen flicks, YA novels, and Disney sitcoms have told us to do that when stepping out among new people? And how often do we stop to think about how difficult those two words actually are?
The new me has been doing this new thing lately. It's called saying yes. As in, yes, I'd love to hang out today. Yes, I'd love to take part in this scary but awesome social event. Yes, I'd love to try this new thing. It's exciting and refreshing and it feels like waking up, but it's also brought me face to face with this challenge to be myself. Stepping into social situations where everyone in the room is funnier, prettier, bolder, savvier, better dressed, more articulate (did I say prettier?) and having to find my authentic self in the fog of their greatness. How do I behave? What do I say? How do I avoid doing anything I'll spend all night critiquing later?
You may not be shocked by this, but my solution—even in a roomful of people—is often the same as before.
Keep quiet. Don't say anything. Just smile. Be sweet. Let everyone see your best, best, best face. At least then you'll have no regrets. You won't feel like you've made a fool of yourself, because yourself wasn't even there—it was a cheap knock-off version.
And it's also the best way to lose yourself completely. To disappear or to lose all faith that God made you—individually, perfectly, lovingly. That He designed you to be someone who is made perfect in Him, and that by diving deeper and deeper into Him, we can discover who that is. We can learn to be ourselves and to do it without worrying by thinking about ourselves less and about Jesus more.
C.S. Lewis said it best: “It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without him” (Mere Christianity). We have this idea that we start off as ourselves and have to give that up in order to be Christ's, but that is backwards. Our identities are in Christ. He has crafted a beautiful, unique personhood for each of us, and it will become more and more ours as we become more and more his. The closer we are to him, the more ourselves we will be, and the more comfortable we will become in that skin even when we step out among others.
The fatal flaw of human beings is that we can't take our eyes off ourselves for more than a millisecond. If I could stop over-analyzing myself with other people, if I could just relax in Jesus' love and be the redeemed work-in-progress he designed me to be, if I could just be there for those around me and focus on their needs instead of my insecurities, being myself would be a natural byproduct. An inevitability.
The biggest obstacle between you and being yourself is not your social situation or your personality or the people you're with—it's you. You, your own worst critic, standing in the way of the identity Christ has crafted for you by trying to monitor and micro-manage the one you already have.
Let's stop obsessing about ourselves. Let's stop thinking about ourselves. If we don't know what to say, let's be listening ears for those around us. Let's look for the best in other people. Let's lighten up, learn to laugh at ourselves, and look for every opportunity to serve Jesus in social situations. Let's stop hiding and start diving headfirst into him. Let's let him teach us how to be ourselves by making us more like him.