It’s the first day of school; your son or daughter is nervous about a new teacher and new classmates. They’re not sure if the outfit they picked looks good, they wish they’d picked the other color backpack, and they really wish you’d bought them that new pair of shoes they begged you for at the mall.
In your heart you sympathize with your child. After all, you remember what it was like on the first day of school, worrying what the other kids would think. But as an adult you realize that the first day of school is going to happen one way or another, whether your child likes it or not, and you are going to be late for work. So you dig down into your treasure box of proverbs and pull out this gem for your child:
“Don’t worry, everything will be fine. Just be yourself.”
Do parents believe this advice or is it just something we say to calm our childrens’ fears? Do we really believe everything will be fine if our kids will ‘just be themselves’?
The saying certainly has scriptural support. Matthew 5:28 says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word used for ‘perfect’ here does not allude to the Greco-Roman concept of absolute perfection as we contextually understand it today. The word Jesus used for ‘perfect’ more closely translates to ‘being congruent with oneself.’ Thus Matthew 5:28 really says, “Be congruent with yourself, therefore, as your heavenly Father is congruent with Himself.” Or more to the point of this post: “Just be yourself, therefore, as your heavenly Father is always Himself.”
For argument’s sake I’ll assume that this bit of advice isn’t just a line we feed our kids to get them out the door and on their way. But if we believe things will be fine if our kids will be themselves, why in the world don’t we parents follow our own advice? How do kids, who were repeatedly taught to ‘be themselves’, grow up into obsessive people-pleasers who will buy, wear, read, listen, eat, drink, smoke, and do just about anything to make other people like them?
I’ve thought a lot about this question as it applies to my own people-pleasing obsession, and the only conclusion that makes any sense to me is that somewhere between childhood and adulthood I learned that I was no good. No other answer I come up with can satisfy the requirements that: A) I give this advice to my own children in good faith (i.e. it’s not just a line), and B) I behave in a way that proves I absolutely don’t believe this advice will work for myself.
I believe this advice will work for my children because I love them and I see how beautiful and wonderful and sweet and kind and caring they are. Sure, they have their annoying quirks, but at the end of the day they are God’s precious children on loan to me and they are absolutely wonderful.
Hopefully when I was a kid my parents thought the same things of me…and even if they didn’t, their poor judgment would not have changed my value in God’s sight one bit. Yet somehow the person who was once a precious, wonderful child is now a man who cannot be himself because my Self is apparently not good enough anymore. Since no one can tell me who I am but me (yes, God tells me who I am, but I have to believe Him) I must have told myself somewhere along the way that I am no good, certainly not good enough to ‘just be myself’. And I think that belief formed as a result of the sin in my life. I bought into one of the oldest tricks in Satan’s book: I believed that because I did bad things, I was a bad person. Even two years after accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior a part of me still believes Satan’s lie that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough to cover all my sin. I can’t find any other logical explanation.
But praise God, the truth is that I am good enough to be myself, and so are you if you have accepted His free offer of forgiveness! When Jesus wipes our sin away He restores in us a child-like quality that enables us to be wonderful and precious children of God again. So go out and be the forgiven and free child of God whom He has called you to be…just be yourself!