Authored by T.M.
Have you ever had a cake that was more frosting or fondant than cake itself? When I encounter a cake like that, I usually scrape off the topping and eat the cake. The top part was only fluff anyway, and I prefer the substantial, chocolaty-cake part.
Certain breads don’t sit well with me either—the kind where a bite will dissolve on my tongue, as if nothing was there at all. The thing is, just as there are cakes and breads that are a whole lot of nothing, there’s a certain kind of communication that is the same.
It’s the kind of talking where we name-drop to make ourselves appear better in others’ eyes, or where we exaggerate our accomplishments or other circumstances in order to appear more attractive to others. It’s where we project an untrue image that we want others to have of us.
For me, trying to become friends with someone who is like this is a bit like trying to eat a piece of fancy but insubstantial birthday cake. When we aren’t authentic in our communications, we trade substance for sugar and cream, and there’s only so much of that that anyone can take. (Just as a side note before going further, I was talking to a friend about my cake theory. She’s someone who is the opposite of me in almost every way, and who likes the frills on a cake. She thinks it’s the frosting that gives you the desire to eat the cake in the first place. So I don’t want to stretch this analogy too far, as a little cream and sugar is definitely desirable, but I think there’s a balance that is worth figuring out.)
The opposite of smoke-and-mirror communication is when you reveal the reality of who you are; it’s being authentic in the impressions you give and the image you portray. It’s funny, but all the boasting and puffing up oneself seems to have the opposite of the desired effect. We often like people who aren’t afraid to be themselves, and we can have a negative reaction to people who try too hard to be liked.
There’s someone in the Bible who knew a thing or two about being authentic. John the Baptist was a guy who didn’t care about how others viewed him. He wore fur, ate bugs and honey, and probably never shaved. On that train of thought, I’m guessing that he never tried to make himself appear better to others either.
Once when people flocked to see him, he greeted them with, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”1 Some of these people could be considered the modern-day equivalent of a guru’s fans, and yet he didn’t sugar-coat his message to make it easier to swallow, nor did he hype himself up when asked whether he was the Christ. Instead, he frankly stated, “One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”2
Perhaps that’s why so many people went out to see him. He spoke the truth at all times, and that’s what gained their trust. Even after all his hard sayings, they asked him, “What should we do then?”3
In a society overflowing with hype, the kinds of people we are drawn to are those who aren’t afraid to be real. When that rare person enters our lives and is honest about where they’re at—not only with all the good, but with the difficult things they are going through, too; or when they talk about the core of what they believe in—we listen, because we connect with people who are honest, who are real.
I wouldn’t suggest that we wear fur and eat bugs to make a point (if it’s not what God is asking you to do, then it’s fake and not being real at all), nor am I suggesting broadcasting inner turmoil and angst. Rather, this is about having the courage to be the person God created you as, which will naturally spill over to how we present ourselves to others.
I believe that being who God made me to be and staying true to that vision is what gives me my worth. People I admire and who inspire me are those who honestly and bravely embrace who God created them to be, and aren’t afraid to communicate that to others. When we choose to communicate the image God has of us over the image we may be tempted to create of ourselves for others, we find authenticity at its finest.—It’s John the Baptist being unafraid to be who he was, because that was God’s idea in the first place.
So how is authentic communication delivered?
I’ve been mulling this over because I know it’s an area of my life that constantly needs improvement. So far, I’ve come up with two basic points that have been a help to me in being authentic and genuine in how I show myself to others:
First, spend time with God. When I’m spending enough time with God, I become less concerned about what others think of me. I stop wanting to create an image of who I think I should be, and become satisfied that God knew what He was doing when He put me together.
I have found that as I spend time with Him, He reveals to me what He had in mind when He made me, when He placed me where He did, and gave me the talents He did. He shows me how to be and how to act the nearer I draw to Him.
Second, be open. I need to let people get to know the person I am behind the smoke and mirrors. It’s natural to want people to think well of me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever grow out of the desire to be admired and to be loved, but where I’m wrong is thinking that a made-up version of who I am is better than the real deal. The people I look up to and admire are those who have revealed their hearts to me—friends, mentors, and others who have pulled back the surface layer of mundane conversation to show me their hearts.
I hope we can get to that place where we decide to be real, because it’s so much better to communicate a substantial something than a whole lot of nothing.
1 Luke 3:7b NIV.
2 Luke 3:16b NKJV.
3 Luke 3:10 NIV.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). (CC). Copyright © 2011 by The Family International