Chemotherapy had not diminished her humor. Nor her wisdom. As she sat on the stage and regaled us with encouragement to write our stories with passion and purpose, I listened in the back of the auditorium utterly grateful for this human—cancer survivor, God’s servant, and my friend, Liz Curtis Higgs.
“Don’t worry so much about platform. Be who God created you to be and share your own unique message. All the rest is secondary. Remember the one thing that matters is Jesus!” And then, as though to emphasize what it means to be an authentic witness, she did the most remarkable thing ever.
She pulled off her wig, beamed in her baldness, and exclaimed “Jesus is all that truly matters!”
The sound of silence filled the room. But only for a brief moment until the loud cheers and praises thundered.
And I wondered if I was brave enough to be that authentic.
Back when I was growing up in a genteel Southern town, I didn’t realize that each time I responded, “Everything is just fine,” to someone’s “How are you?” I was putting on a mask to hide pain, loneliness, or something complicated in my home or heart. It just seemed simpler and more acceptable to present that I’ve-got-it-all-together persona to everyone. After all, there was a lot at stake in admitting imperfection—not the least of which was my Christian witness.
Funny that. I don’t think Jesus would have been embarrassed by my tarnished, crooked crown. After all, weren’t His best friends a ragtag group of redeemed sinners? What Christ wants is a heart fully devoted to Him and an honest life reflecting His power in our humanity. Of course, we stumble and fall. Yes, we have impossible assignments on terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. But how do we respond or react to such challenges in real life?
I wish now that I had felt free in my youth to answer those “How are you?” questions honestly. Something like, “Thanks for asking. I’m struggling with a few things right now but learning a lot in the process,” or “Well most of the time things are going well, but today I just happen to be a bit discouraged,” or even, “Honestly? I am feeling a bit alienated from my friends right now but trying to work it out.” I guess I’ll always wonder what their response might have been.
Fast forward to today. If anything, on the surface our culture now embraces imperfection. At least when it chooses. So instead of hiding our struggling selves we regurgitate them all over the world—through whatever platform we have. There is even a new term to describe this—curated imperfection. It seems to have begun with mommy bloggers acting real and evolved into a whole new skill set.
Thus the struggle—how do we live authentically without falling into the trap of “Everything’s just fine” or the other end of “I’m a hot mess”? Surely there is some happy medium.
We do real. Authenticity is the quality of being genuine; real—one’s true nature or beliefs. And I do believe most people today sincerely desire to live authentically.
One popular magazine recently did a whole issue on this subject: “Authenticity is the clearing away of all that is not true, peeling back the layers until you discover what was there in the beginning. It’s allowing yourself to be truly known and loved, as well as really knowing and loving someone else. It is the willingness to stand alone in doing what you believe is right, even when what’s right isn’t a popular choice. Authenticity can’t be copied… It resists comparison. It defies seeing yourself as who you are less than or who you’re not. It’s acknowledging the difference between what is fake and what is real.” —Magnolia Journal, Spring 2019
When Liz Curtis Higgs took off her wig to reveal baldness from cancer chemotherapy, it was as though she was saying, Yes, I’m a strong woman, but I’m also sick. And yes, I’m still speaking from the platform (although sitting in a chair, not standing at a podium) telling you an important true message that Jesus is all that truly matters. Her authenticity was a tool to point others (we the audience) to where help and hope lay—in the power of Jesus Christ. It was clearly all about Him, not her.
We do real. But not so that others will be enthralled by our messy lives in order to justify their own. We do real so that others will see the God who is there for us in the midst of those fears, failures, and faith-challenges.
It’s hard but necessary work to discover who we are and why we’re here. But I believe that the heart of the spiritual journey is a willingness to recognize ourselves as we are in front of our Maker. Where are you on that journey? Many of us stay busy in order to avoid facing some of the deepest questions in our souls. But then we fail to understand both who we are and the work God has for us in the world.
Why can’t it be as simple as doing what Dolly Parton says, “Find out who you are. And do it on purpose”?
In my quest to become a soul strong woman, I am embracing the following four truths:
- I know who I am and who I’m not. I am confident in how God created me uniquely with gifts that serve His purpose for my life.
- I live for an audience of One. While others’ opinions do matter, I do and say all to the glory of God.
- I reject comparison and competition. These temptations can negatively impact my calling to fulfill my part in the body of Christ.
- I passionately pursue my calling. I learn to focus on both my primary calling in life as well as how each season manifests the “next things.”
Think of a confident woman you know who appears to be comfortable in her own skin. What do you most admire about her? How do you feel when you are around her?
Chances are you also experience more peace and security because this woman’s assurance and calm allows you to settle into your best self.
I expect we’d all love to be that kind of woman, possessing the courage to say to someone in authority—just as David did when King Saul offered his armor to fight Goliath—“No thanks, what you’ve suggested is not a good fit—I will use what God gave me instead.”
Living as myself—authentically, uniquely me—is the only way I know how to live fully
and vibrantly. And I discover how to do that through time spent with the One who knows me best and loves me most—God.
Our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer fashioned us uniquely and perfectly. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for; Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” (Ephesians 1:11 The Message)
I am a soul strong woman because I am embracing His unique designs for glorious living, and I pray this for you as well.