One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.
“You know, Michael, there’s something I’ve really noticed about you. You always come across as very polished.” My friend Tim lightly grinned as he looked at me. That evening I had presented a talk to a group of Bible students in Denver, and I was reviewing the event with Tim afterward at a nearby restaurant.
His comment was intended as a compliment, of course. But why then did I suddenly feel like a deer caught in the headlights? Tim’s observation unnerved me. I felt exposed and ashamed, like my cover had been blown. But it was just a compliment, right?
My proclivity for “polished” behavior started early on, while I was just a kid living under the shadow of my father’s role as pastor in the local church. In a small town like that, everybody knows you’re the preacher’s kid. And they’re all too quick to report back to Dad anytime you do anything that might reflect badly on him. With all the eyes that were constantly watching me in every context of my life, it was like being trailed by a film crew, every moment recorded and, if necessary, replayed repeatedly through the gossip chain until it got back to Mom and Dad. I quickly learned to filter my behavior and project a polished front to keep me (and, by association, my dad) out of trouble.
The problem is, after so many years of such meticulous image management, the false front I had created for survival became a comfortable second skin. It was automatic–be polished, sound eloquent, project that you’ve got it all together. Without realizing it, I began to believe that polished act was actually, authentically me. Only, it wasn’t. Not really. Not deep in my core. I lost touch with myself, and became a bit of an automaton. Even my spontaneity seemed practiced–not quite fake, but not quite real either. My only awareness that something was wrong came in the form of a subtle but nagging sense of detachment. I had trouble deeply, honestly connecting … with people, with experiences, with anything. It seemed no matter where I went or what I did or who I did it with, I never quite felt truly, fully alive.
I’ve come to call this practiced persona–this projection of what I thought others required me to be–my Beautiful Façade. Sharp. Together. Acceptable. So close to the real me in many ways, but not me … an assemblage of carefully chosen aspects of my personality sewn together to present the image I think the world demands. But it’s not all of me. And it’s certainly not the soul of me.
In the years since I became aware of my Beautiful Façade, I’ve noticed that most everyone I’ve ever met has one too. Do you? If so, what’s it like? What image does your Beautiful Façade project to others … in the office, in your church, with your friends? What personality traits is your façade committed to maintain at all costs? And because of your façade, what parts of your true soul remain locked away, unseen?
“The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly”–Jesus (John 10:10). A Beautiful Façade may make you feel safe; it may even keep you from being judged or hurt by those who would not understand your heart–but it cannot bring you true life. Jesus didn’t come to save your façade. He came to save you–the real you, unedited and raw, beneath the polish and front. And if you let him, Christ will show you how to lay aside the façade for good, and live free in the authentic abundance he always intended.
In this New Year season of fresh starts and new beginnings, what if, instead of resolving (again) to pursue a list of “shoulds” designed to shore up your façade, you made the resolution to lay it aside altogether–to give yourself permission to be who you really are, and fully engage with life from a place of honesty and brazen authenticity? What would happen if you engaged with God from that place this entire year? What would happen if you engaged with others in that way? What level of transformation and genuine freedom might be possible if you really–no kidding–came out of hiding?
Isn’t it time you found out?
Michael D. Warden is a Professional Co-Active Coach, nationally certified through the Coaches Training Institute, and a member of the International Coach Federation. Michael’s clients’ one common trait is their passion to live a bigger life–to discover what they’re here for, and boldly go after that vision with confidence and authenticity. Find more on his life and work at ascentcoachinggroup.com.