Breaking Moulds and Burning Masks
Be yourself…it was so easy to do when you were younger, huh? Certainly, much of it had to do with the fact that you just didn’t care about what others thought of you. You were your own; the world was yours to discover. How you were perceived never came into your head; being yourself was as easy as breathing. Then suddenly you notice the way people look at you, and the startling thought enters your head: “Do they…not like me? Why? What am I doing wrong?”
Suddenly, ‘you’ is anathema. ‘You’ must be hidden away at all costs to ‘fit in’ or ‘be well-liked’. You begin to forget who the real ‘you’ is, and you try to balance the shadow of what’s left of ‘you’ with an acceptable image, blurring the lines until you can’t tell which is which.
Then, suddenly, from the radio, the television, every sign and street corner, that familiar cry rings out: “Be yourself!” “Stand out!” “Pay no heed to the opinions of the world!” FINALLY!!!! THEY UNDERSTAND!!!! You can be you! At long, long last, you can–
Wait…how can you be yourself if you don’t remember who you are?
Never fear! The world has the answer to that too! All you have to do is buy this clothing…listen to this music…say these things this way…and WHAM! You can be yourself again…just like everyone else…
Notice the discrepancy? ‘Be yourself’ has become another cliche, a new niche. It’s one more option to mask the true problem: you’ve forgotten who you are. Rebel, hipster, what have you–to stand out, you must fit in. And the more you try to fit in, the more you realize you never will.
Chesterton particularly liked to point out the beautiful paradoxes of life; it was one of the reasons he came to convert to Christianity and Catholicism. One of the paradoxes of life is that in order to fit in, you must stand out.
But allow me to clarify, for I mean something rather different than society by these terms. When I say fit in, I do not mean become part of the crowd; when we strive to join the collective, we’re searching for love. This is the deepest hunger of every person, the most basic and important desire. When I say ‘fit in’ in this context, I mean to find yourself comfortable in the world, unafraid of being judged, because you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are loved. (Sidebar: This is why I can’t understand the appeal of many Eastern philosophies; they declare the search for love futile and advocate instead the following of a lifestyle that will ultimately lead to to being joined eternally to an indistinguishable collective.)
And when I say stand out, I mean something other than what the world declares is within the realm of standing out. ‘Standing out’ must begin with discovering, or rather rediscovering, who you are. It is when we recognize who we are that we are able to recognize how very loved we are.
Why? Because we are children of God.
Take a second and let that fully sink in and blow your mind.
No seriously, just stop. Right now. And contemplate: WE CAN CALL GOD “OUR FATHER”.
Good. Now back to the paradox.
Who are you? At your core, you have the potential of being an adopted son or daughter of the One True God, and by baptism, that incredible gift, that indelible mark, is placed on our souls. All that we are ultimately stems from and leads to this: that we exist, each and every moment, solely because God continues to love us, and desires us to spend eternity with Him.
It’s commonly heard in my family that ‘everyone is weird in their own way’. Our quirks, our talents, our likes, our dislikes, even our crosses–they are given to us as gifts of love, such that we are completely unique.
When we can recognize our identity as beloved children of the Father, then and only then can we truly ‘be ourselves’, for then we can confidently go forth into the world, unashamed of who we are, because we are perfectly, wonderfully, unfathomably loved.
By standing out, we find ourselves fitting in.