Authenticity at Church
Let’s talk about authenticity!
In our current society it appears that concept of “be authentic” has become an excuse to “act how you feel.” It’s almost like, if we are happy, feeling blessed, positive or optimistic then we must be fake or hypocritical. We might even worry about feeling happy or grateful because we don’t want to appear prideful or make others feel worse about themselves and their circumstances. Ironically, on the flip side of this we typically only see the positive and “happy faces” on social media, confusing us even more about what is real — even within ourselves.
This isn’t super new, however. Back in 2017, Elder Quentin L. Cook observed this same phenomenon:
In today’s world, there is an increased emphasis on pride, self-aggrandizement, and so-called “authenticity,” which sometimes leads to a lack of true humility. Some suggest the moral values for happiness today include “be real, be strong, be productive—and most important, don’t rely on other people … because your fate is … in your own hands.”…
Some misuse authenticity as a celebration of the natural man and qualities that are the opposite of humility, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and civility. We can celebrate our individual uniqueness as children of God without using authenticity as an excuse for un-Christlike behavior.
Brene Brown defines authenticity this way:
Letting Go of who we Think we’re Supposed to Be
So does this mean we are to push away our sadness to be happy because we’re supposed to?
Does embracing who we are mean we can lash out if we have an anger management problem?
I don’t think so. But before we get to digging into authenticity more fully, I want to touch on a couple of other thoughts.
Hypocrisy & Duplicity
I think we worry about acting happy when we’re sad because maybe we are being hypocrites. Likewise, there is the fear that when feeling tired we can’t go out in public and treat the cashier with the same grumpiness with which we treated our family. I know I struggle with this immensely!
At one point in my life I’d had some unpleasant interactions with a person in my ward. There had been betrayal and I was feeling hypocritical going to church and smiling when I knew she was hurting — when I was hurting. One day I was revealing these emotions to a friend and she said, “Julia, when you go into church with a smile and joy, that is the real you.”
Being brave, strong and resilient is not hypocrisy.
Duplicity is also something we grapple with. For example, acting one way at home and the opposite way outside the home. Years ago, when my oldest was about seven years old, I was in the middle of giving him a heated lecture when the phone rang. Of course, when I answered, my voice became social sweet. After finishing the conversation my son asked, “Why do you sound mad at home, but on the phone you sound nice?” Caught!
But, was this appropriate on my part? What else could I have done? Answered the phone in a grumpy tone? Maybe it would have been better to ignore the phone and finish the conversation with my son, calling back when the mood was better. Or maybe there is a time for what the Nagoski sisters call, “strategic inauthenticity.”
In their book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagoski state that sometimes we build trust through strategic inauthenticity. They write, “Part of being trustworthy is being that ‘well-behaved woman’ [in a public setting]…Authenticity comes on the phone that evening when you tell you best friend how well you behaved (pp. 143-144).”
In other words: saying you’re okay when you’re not, is okay; maybe even healthy.
Authenticity in our Church Meetings
Which brings me to authenticity in our Church meetings. I know there is a lot of talk about becoming more vulnerable at church. We want people to be “real” in Sunday School and Relief Society instead of only hearing the “Sunday School answers,” the ideal applications, and the faith-building stories. But again, going back to my first question, does “real” mean we can’t be joyful and share the good in our lives? Is it fake and less authentic when we only share the good stuff?
I’m beginning to see that maybe our Sunday classes are more a time for “strategic inauthenticity” rather than a place for us to bare all to all. Why? Because we all need faith, hope and charity. After all, Brene Brown also reminds us that people need to earn the right to hear our vulnerable stories, they aren’t meant for everyone. For awhile now I’ve actually thought how nice it is to have that one day a week when I am forced (and expected) to put on my Sunday best, smile as I pass others in the hallway, and discuss the ideals of the gospel. The rest of the week can be for exhaustion and stress if it wants to be, but that one blessed day is a reprieve.
I believe Elder Deiter F. Uchtdorf says it best:
…the authentic disciple of Jesus Christ...did something that can be extremely hard to do: she trusted God even in the face of ridicule and hardship. Somehow she maintained her faith and hope, despite the scorn and cynicism around her. She lived joyfully not because her circumstances were joyful but because she was joyful.
Being joyful is not inauthentic.
Being joyful is not hypocritical.
Being joyful in moments of sadness is not duplicity.
We all need to share in the joy of others. If my joy affects the joy of another, that makes me sad, but it should not dictate the joy that I am allowed and able to feel on my good days. If being authentic means honoring the natural man, then maybe I don’t want to be authentic. In psychology — the real self, the true self, the authentic self is made up of the good parts of me. Those are the parts that belong in me because of Jesus Christ. Those are the parts of me He wants me to use in helping others to use their own. Therein lies my identity and my divinity.
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“Let love be without dissimulation (sincere). Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”