Authenticity is one of the greatest values of our day. And I don’t just mean a cultural value, though it is that. Cultural values are often lies based on the worship of self or some other false god. But authenticity is an actual value. In a world of false fronts and internet perceptions and lack of close relationships it is like finding treasure to find people who are truly themselves, hide nothing, and do not deceive.
Even as I write that, though, I realize the vagueness of it. After all, what is authenticity? Is it being open, being honest, and being vulnerable? Yes. Is it leaving no thought unspoken, revealing too much too son, and dumping your crap on others? No.
The truest authenticity, the best authenticity is humble. Authenticity without humility is a lie.
We cannot be authentic without being humble because otherwise we are presenting a false version of ourselves. We are putting ourselves forth as something better than reality, revealing those aspects of ourselves that might make people think better of us. This doesn’t mean we only say good things – that would be far too obvious a lie. It means we say the less glamorous things in just such a way as to garner sympathy or gain trust without actually risking hurt or exposing pain.
If we lack humility our “authenticity” is based in a misunderstanding of who we are, so what we authentically project to the world is not real. We end up deceiving people by accident as they believe us to be something we are not and we do not know we are not. Or we manipulate them on purpose in order to get them to trust what we are not.
Authenticity without humility is a burden to others. It does not serve them. It does not soothe them. It takes from them, holds them to a false standard, sets them up for a fall. It demands things of others instead of asking self-effacingly for the help we need. In the end people are in relationship with a false you, and when that falls apart the wreckage affects all involved.
Most significantly, lack of humility means that your “authenticity” makes you the hero of your story. We are so steeped in story, so enamored with broken, vulnerable heroes, that we position ourselves as such. We show weakness to highlight strength, and often we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Our authenticity is a carefully situated uniform to make us look great.
Only humility allows God to be the hero of our story and lets us reveal those things about ourselves that we would otherwise veil. Only humility helps us see when the right time to share hard truths is and when it’s best to wait lest we harm or burden another. Only humility helps us set ego aside and share our needs with others. Only humility does not spin a truth or look for the perfect, desirable reaction. In each of these actions we are revealing our true selves – the self in need of God’s grace, not the hero. Without humility there is no authenticity and without that there is no place for others to see God working.
Barnabas Piper serves on the leadership team at Lifeway, and is the author of several books, including The Pastor’s Kid, and Help My Unbelief.