People often tell me I’m authentic. I hope so, but I know it hasn’t always been the case. My journey of understanding what it means to be real, and learning to embrace it, began years ago.
When I was a youngster, I was a drama geek. I had no idea how uncool that was, but it didn’t matter because I loved it. One of my favorite plays was the Velveteen Rabbit in which I played “Crazed Jack in the Box” as well as “Real Rabbit #2.” I know. So, so utterly uncool.
But there’s a beautiful scene where the Velveteen Rabbit is speaking with the Skin Horse, the oldest toy in the nursery. This is their conversation:
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
For much of my life, I lived in fear of moving close enough to people to let them love all of me. I feared they might reject the weaker, less appealing parts that I saw. I believed the lie that I had to be a certain kind of person, not too much, not too little, in order to be loved.
For me, the journey to being authentic started with accepting that I am deeply, unreservedly loved by God and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. It is in letting him bring out all that I believe is unlovely in me and hearing, “Yes, I love even this,” that I have begun to allow others to see it as well.
Paula Reinhart in Strong Women, Soft Hearts, says, “You can’t really love people well unless you are at home in your own soul. You will simply be too afraid.” It is still a terrifying prospect to be simply me with others, and to waver in the hope that they will accept me just as I am. But when I come from a place of love, it gives me courage to truly be myself.
And it’s a beautiful thing: to be truly real with others. It is an opportunity for us to love others with his love, to be open and vulnerable and known. Yes, sometimes it hurts a little, and we get a little shabby in the process. But when we are REALLY loved, then we are free to become real.