Have you ever felt pressured to improve who you are to get what you want?
Of course you have; we all have. In fact, that is one of the most dangerous thoughts in singleness: I am alone because there is something wrong with me.
If you are a female and over a certain age – 12 – you will inevitably think there is something not quite right about you. It could be your nose, height, thighs, freckles — or a myriad of other perfectly normal parts of the human form — that you decide is not in line with what is considered beautiful.
For me as a teen, it was my feet. In fact, I once had a dream that I got into a very serious car accident and was rushed to hospital. After waking up from surgery I was told the only injury I had was to my feet, and unfortunately they had to surgically reduce them to a size six. I cannot describe the disappointment of waking up to realize the accident had never happened!
A few years ago the TODAY Show in America did a study that showed the average woman spends 55 minutes every day, or two weeks a year, obsessing about her appearance. The same study found that 60 percent of adult women have negative thoughts about themselves weekly, compared with 36 percent of men. In summary, women in general don’t like who they are and are spending vast amounts of time trying to make improvements.
Over the years I have seen this in my own life, especially in my early 20s and 30s, when I spent far more time trying to improve what was wrong instead of choosing to enhance what was right. I thought surely I was just a few upgrades away from desirable and date-worthy.
And then one day I learned a valuable lesson about the usefulness of such improvements.
The year was 2006, and I had, very reluctantly, joined the online dating scene. Back then it was still taboo; to admit you were registered on a dating site was akin to admitting you’d tried everything else and that was your last hope of romance before the eggs dried up.
As I was living in the U.K., my options were even more limited. I am not exaggerating when I say that in six months of being registered, I came across two men who were living in the U.K. Everyone else was in America.
But though my “choices” were whittled down to “a choice,” one of the two guys seemed genuinely nice. We began emailing a bit, which eventually led him to visit where I lived so we could meet. He stayed with his sister, and we spent the afternoons and evenings together over a weekend, enjoying talking and getting to know one another. I received a phone call about an hour after he left. He was on the train and was still thinking of me (this is a good start), and he needed to talk to me (all going well here) and let me know that while he expected I would be great (holding my breath here), he never thought I’d be amazing (wow, this is really happening) and therefore he has decided (of course I’d like to see you again) … he would like to get back with his ex-girlfriend.
My mind went blank. I stopped choosing which English castle to use for the wedding. Soon his voice faded into the distance as he cut through the awkwardness by elaborating on how great he thought I was and how sorry he was this wasn’t going to work …. while all I could hear was “amazing isn’t good enough.”
I was polite and quickly ended the conversation before the dam of tears burst forth. Ringing my pastor immediately afterward, I exclaimed through those tears: “If amazing isn’t good enough … then what is?!”
At that moment, all hopes of marriage seemed out of reach because I had done it: I was amazing … yet I still didn’t qualify as serious dating material.
What my pastor helped me realize was even though I was amazing (I like to keep hearing myself say that), it showed this guy how much he loved the one he had previously been afraid to choose.
I wish I could say in that moment I felt honored to have helped someone find the woman of his dreams, but I was honestly more annoyed than honored.
Yet it taught me a good lesson: Amazing isn’t the goal; authenticity is.
He had an authentic relationship with a woman he loved but was afraid to commit to, and only through exploring other options could he see how much her authenticity won against the amazing choices around him. They are now married and, last I heard, doing really well, for which I genuinely am very pleased.
Which do you tend to focus on in yourself and others – amazing or authentic?
Amazing fades. This season will soon be so last season, as over time all relationships eventually uncover brokenness. The endearing becomes annoying, and what once was cute will in time become the thorn in your side.
Authenticity, though, stays with us forever. It is the glue that holds our hearts together. Knowing, accepting and loving one another for who we are is the watered soil in which our redeemed selves can truly begin to flourish. We see this in Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman, Peter, the woman with the issue of blood, Zaccheaus, Martha … need I continue?
His love is one of grace and full acceptance, never turning you away and always viewing your life through the power of the cross: redeemed, beautiful and clean.
We may think authenticity is born out of amazing, but it’s actually the other way around. As we embrace our authenticity in Christ, we grow into the amazing person He created us to be.
And, unlike shoe sizes, this is one growth stage I’m happy to embrace.