She extended her hand, pointed down the street and said, “be sure to avoid our authenticity.”
The kids on our fourth grade field trip to Colonial Williamsburg paused a moment in confusion.
Then this wave of understanding passed over our group.
The horse-drawn carriages.
The dusty road.
The piles of smelly “authenticity” left behind by these horses as they pulled those carriages down that dusty road.
Day later, I shuffled my crew of four kids into Wal-Mart for a prescription, and I recalled the tour guide’s warning.
My two-year-old was having a two-year-old day.
He had an outburst of anger when we pulled into the Wal-Mart because we didn’t stop at the Chick-fil-A or the frozen yogurt place instead.
He then had a meltdown in the parking lot because I didn’t let him dance around in the middle of the road. No, I was the mean mom who insisted he hold her hand in the parking lot!
He hadn’t even finished blinking away those tears before he threw himself into a full-fledged tantrum because I did not get a cart for our quick jaunt in and out of the store.
As he wailed in the pharmacy pick-up line, slowly calming down, I saw someone nearby throw a look my way.
What kind of mother was I?
That’s when I had this flashback moment to that field trip to Colonial Williamsburg the week before.
A tour guide could have waved her hand in my direction and warned people to “Beware of the Authenticity.”
Because that’s what others were seeing, a little moment of Real in the middle of my day.
Maybe they were judging me. After all, what kind of mother was I who didn’t buy her son ice cream before dinner and then dared to hold his hand in the parking lot? How dare I tell my tiny tyrant “No?!”
And that’s the funniest thing about it, because even while they were judging me in this moment of authenticity, I was actually being a good mom—not giving into the dangerous whims of a toddler, never once losing my cool or my temper but quietly asserting my will over his, and allowing him to calm down as he realized (once again) that maybe mom really was the boss.
But authenticity is uncomfortable. It’s smelly and embarrassing.
It’s the kind of thing we wish we could sweep away and pretend doesn’t exist at all.
Authenticity? In my life?
I always have it together.
My kids always behave.
I’m never forgetful or short-tempered or indecisive or insecure.
Yet, the very thing we usually avoid is the very thing that God honors and delights in: The truest parts of ourselves laid out before Him, without masks, without facades, without excuses or pretension.
When Hannah prayed desperately in the temple for a child, she brought her authentic self to God.
She was mocked for being childless. Her husband didn’t understand her pain.
“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (1 Samuel 1:10 ESV).
Eli the priest judged her prayer. Surely she was drunk in the middle of the day. Only that could explain her despair.
Hannah heard his caustic mockery, the judgment and denunciation.
But here’s the thing: The very moment Eli condemned her, Hannah was doing the most true and honest thing she could do: “pouring out my soul before the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15 ESV).
And God saw her. He had compassion on her. He granted her request.
Maybe we’re tempted today to judge those around us: The bad mom, the forgetful coworker, the short-tempered friend.
Or maybe others are judging us as we pour out our soul before the Lord and bring the Real and the Genuine to Him, embarrassing as it is, vulnerable as it makes us.
That’s hard for me. I want people to think I’m a good mom, but there in the Wal-Mart they probably thought I was a right awful mess!
I trust this, though: God sees the truth.
He desires the real. The genuine. The sincere.
God loves the authentic.
He doesn’t, of course, excuse sin and allow us to do whatever we want whenever we want because “that’s just who we are.”
No, authenticity means bringing our brokenness and our bad days and our honest struggles to Him.
It means He applauds us when we’re doing what’s right, even if the world judges us unfairly.
It means having “genuine faith,” the tried-and-true kind (2 Timothy 1:5). The kind of faith that withstands trials and difficulties.
It means loving those around us even when we see their own Authenticity and maybe offering them prayer, an understanding ear, and a hug instead of a judging word or condemning look.
This is how we live the authentic life and invite others to do the same.