I remember going to a Post Secret event at University once. Post Secret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard. At my University, a small group of friends decided to try doing it locally. Students could put their cards through the door of a flat on a busy shopping street, and a few weeks later there was a champagne reception to launch the exhibition of all the postcards. I went. I think maybe one of my flatmates was involved.
My overriding memory of that evening was sadness. Reading through the secrets I was overwhelmed by how much was hidden. The loneliness. The shame. The unfulfilled dreams. The fear. The guilt.
And yet also, the similarities. Here were all these anonymous secrets suddenly out in the open. I only wished that we could have found the courage to come in person, postcard in hand. I think we could have all found some strength there.
It’s far too easy to say, “I’m OK, I’m fine”, when we’re asked “how are you?”. It rolls off the tongue so easily. The risk of baring all can feel so great, because what if the person we dare to be vulnerable with does not react in the way that we hope? And so it’s far easier just to keep it all bottled up inside.
There’s a building on Place de Paris here in Luxembourg, that they have been renovating the past months. When I say renovating, I mean they have destroyed the entire building except for the fancy old facade. Some elaborate scaffolding holds the beautiful stone sculpting but through all the windows you see just emptiness. The building is a shell.
I think this is what we risk when we work so hard at keeping up the facade of perfection, or at least perfect enough. We risk becoming an empty shell. When I don’t allow anyone to see the real me, there’s a danger that the real me gets lost, disappears. Until one day I’m left wondering who I am anyway?
We think the facade is protecting us. From judgement. From disappointing others. From embarrassment. From feeling like a failure.
But when I work so hard to hold up the elaborate facade I’ve created, I lose the freedom to discover who I really am, to become all that I am supposed to be.
It’s exhausting. Can we just admit that?
It can be hard though, to give up the facade. We have become so enchanted with our false selves. We like the way they look, we like the fact that they bring admiration and respect from other people. Most days we would prefer to pretend, even to ourselves, that we’ve got it all together, than admit that there might be bits of our heart that are broken.
Last Saturday lunch found me sitting in an Italian restaurant, plates already cleared from the table, the bill paid, most of the group departed for their next thing. And I let the facade slip for a moment. Let my face crumple a little at that corner table. Started a sentence with, “actually, I could use some prayer.” And it felt like a giant relief.
To be seen. To be heard. It was sweet freedom.
In Luke9, Jesus said to his disciples,
Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
If you try and hold on to the facade you have created, the “you” you would like everyone to see, if you keep striving to appear like someone different from who you really are, try to gain the whole world this way – you will lose your life. Maybe you’ll live until you are 100 but you will not be truly living. There is a kind of life that leads to death. And there is a kind of death that leads to life.
I want to put to death the facade, I want to lose the false me. And yes, there are also appropriate boundaries. People need to earn the right to hear my stories. But no more fake. No more pretending. No more striving for everyone else’s approval.
Brene Brown says,
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”
Here’s to stopping the striving, stopping the trying so hard to be everything to everyone. Here’s instead to risking vulnerability, choosing the real me – quirks and doubts and brokenness and all – and declaring it beautiful enough to drop the facade and come out of hiding.
How about you?
Last last Sunday (15th March) I preached at our church, All Nations Church of Luxembourg, on this topic of Giving Up the Facade. To listen (it’s around 20 minutes – actually, a bit more, I went over time!) you can visit the website to hear the podcast.