When do people experience God most fully?
Is it during our childhood, when we are free from responsibilities and cushioned from many of the betrayals we will come to realize as we mature? Is it when we realize our vocation in life? When we pray? In times of silence? In the morning, in the middle of the night, when we are happy…?
We think the answer is whenever we have permission to be authentic, wherever we are, however old we are.
The Online Etymology Dictionary characterizes “authentic” as a sense of being real and accepted as factual. It is rooted in the pairing of auto (self) and hentes (being).
How many times do we routinely find ourselves allowed to be completely authentic?
In childhood? Very many.
As we grow in years? Fewer and fewer.
From our formative years, we learn what pleases others and what does not. We gradually figure out how to express who we are within the confines of maintaining peace, order and pleasantry, whether this is following the rules in kindergarten or earning promotions in the workplace. It is also discovered within our relationships as we learn how our actions attract, influence or alienate others.
As we grow, we hear the echoes of many well-intentioned people who have helped us learn how to behave politely around others – whether or not we have autism.
We also hear the echoes of our rebukes: being told to stop crying, for instance; or, that our fears are ridiculous, or that our deep love of academia is boring, or that our silence hurts people’s feelings, or that our moments of overload are an embarrassment to our families. Adolescence alone is a pressure cooker for the conflict between being ourselves and being acceptable to others.
Whenever motivation is extrinsic – that is, when we act in order to earn something good or avoid something unpleasant – our authenticity decreases. This can be as large as the difference between a forced apology and sincere regret of having hurt someone else, and as subtle as wondering if you just smiled at another person because your speech therapist taught you to do it, or because that other person made you feel like smiling.
Are we ever taught how to be authentic?
Do we know how to be anxious, angry, frustrated, overwhelmed or confused, without fearing that we will offend the people who are important to us? Have we been so “good” for so long that we have no idea what our moments of authentic need should look like?
The reason we ask is found in our Mission Statement and Objectives; specifically, that Missionaries of Saint Thorlak seek:
- To teach people to see how God sees them, and how God sees those around them
- To encourage people to live as God sees them
- To teach people to gently encourage others to live as God sees them -
First, by the example of their own lives;
then, by friendship to them;
then, by words.
Most of us struggle to be authentic even before God because we know our imperfections. The way we believe God sees us is heavily influenced by the way we believe others see us. Yet God Himself is the One – sometimes, the only One – Who sees us as we truly are, and Who knows us down to who we were created to be. He knows what we really look like and how much effort we put into living the way He intends for us to live.
God always gives us permission to be authentic, because in His infinite love, He can see us no other way.
The others around us vary greatly in their capacity to meet us where we are. Those who do are like oxygen to our souls. Our true friends never leave us in our dark places, but they oxygenate us until we are ready to move forward to better spiritual ground (…even if we don’t want to go there).
But – where are these people? Who brings oxygen to MY soul? Who gives ME permission to be authentic?
If you’re counting on one hand, you’re in great company. If you’re struggling to think of more than two, you’re in even greater company.
Not to worry. Missionaries of Saint Thorlak know a fast way to oxygenate a room with authenticity and to equip everyone we meet with tanks of their own, if they wish. We know the way to begin experiencing this permission to be authentic in all of our relationships, paralleling the freedom we felt in our most innocent childhood days.
Our secret? Start giving others permission to be authentic.
If we approach everyone with complete permission to be authentic, with our only plea being “show me your true need, with no filter!” – we will find it nearly impossible to resist being authentic ourselves. Our hesitation to be seen by God will likewise start melting away.
How is this possible? As simply as Matthew 18:20. When you give someone else permission to be authentic, you open the door for God to greet you, authentically, through them. You will begin experiencing God, authentically, as Jesus is brought present to you.
It may take work. You may have to catch yourself before you toss out a barb to people with different opinions, or you may have to squelch your urge to wonder if people are telling you the truth. Remember, you aren’t guaranteeing authenticity – you are simply permitting it. You are offering a forum for no-penalty honesty. You are freeing the people in your circle from having to perform to receive their reward, because you reward them with your authenticity. You are leveling the playing field and expecting only the best… because you do - or, if not yet, because you want to… and, because you hope people will assume the best in you. You want to teach people to see how God sees them, and how God sees those around them. You want to encourage people to live as God sees them: first, by the example of your own life; then, by friendship to them; then, by words.
But just a warning: if every person should begin supplying the oxygen of authenticity to even a fraction of the full potential, we would find ourselves at high risk for a spiritual conflagration at the slightest spark of zeal… the likes of which we’ve been warned about in Luke 12:49.
PRAY: Heavenly Father, I stand before you today just as I am. Help me to experience You, authentically, and fully.
CONTEMPLATE: Do I give others permission to be authentic? What do I do or say that prevents this from happening? Am I aware that I do this? Is it necessary?
RELATE: Take tiny steps. Give one person, one time, permission to be authentic this week. Make this something deliberate. Observe how you experience the encounter. What do you notice about yourself?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak