|Photo by Nina Matthews Photography|
ByEmily Walter Laney
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” – Galatians 1:10, ESV
I’ve seen a lot of references to being ‘true to yourself’ over the past couple of days. My pastor, Louie Giglio, tweeted once “If you’re always worried about what your friends might think then maybe they aren’t your friends after all….. make your ambition to please Jesus. He’ll take care of everything else.” Those tweets convicted me. I feel I’ve expelled extensive energy on pleasing people for much of my adolescent and adult life. I worry too much by nature, but my concern for what others ‘think’ is too frequent and too consuming.
I grew up in the suburbs, and realized pretty quickly in adulthood that my ambitions dreams, political beliefs and even my personality didn’t always 'fit in’ with other women of my age in my community. I was raised to vote Republican, adhere to Southern Baptist theology, and stick with a list of dos and don’ts. I was surrounded by people who considered being a stay at home mother the ideal situation for themselves and didn’t meet very many female leaders in my faith community. Drinking alcohol was a sin, and homosexuality seemed to be the worst sin on the planet. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t think Republicans, Southern Baptists, and stay-at-home moms are bad. I love my mom, and she stayed at home with us. I think we all have viewpoints and dreams, and these are all good viewpoints and dreams, I’m just offering an illustration of the community I grew up in.
In 2005 I spent six months in Indonesia after the Tsunami. This was a period of tremendous growth and learning for me. I was confronted with more diversity in six months of my life than I had experienced in twenty years of life in Woodstock, Georgia. I met Christians who spoke in tongues, drank beer, and considered themselves Democrats. I met authentic, Godly people who didn’t have the exact same beliefs and convictions as me. It was challenging and I struggled to reconcile my beliefs with theirs. But the Lord ultimately brought peace to this struggle and I came to recognize that Jesus was the center and that I had no right to judge someone’s walk with Christ. The Christians I met in Indonesia had faith that put my own to shame. They were soul winners, passionate disciples who were changing the world. I realized that I had much to learn from them, as I had been living in a white suburban American Christian bubble.
The ultimate result of that trip was that my own opinions began to shift and I found myself not quite fitting into that bubble I had grown up in. I didn’t consider all those values I had been raised to adhere to as important as I had in the past. I had friends tell me I had abandoned my beliefs. I had people criticize my desire to help others. My comments were frequently met with blank stares and uncomfortable silences. There were a few women I connected with and I have so many wonderful friends, but I often felt out of place and awkward. I was that weird girl who would bring up uncomfortable topics at dinner parties and dragged my friends to see foreign films. My passion for social justice consumed me, and I guess it annoyed other people. It didn’t annoy everyone, and fortunately my now husband was more fascinated by my weirdness than turned off by it, resulting in him asking me on that first date. I developed some close friendships during this time and I’m so thankful for my friends. I know that most of my friends have accepted me for who I am, and I have accepted them for who they are.
But I have started to realize that I’ve not been true to who I am. It’s no one’s fault but my own. I frequently put on a mask because I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want people’s opinions of me to change. I don’t want to be seen as a weak or ‘bad Christian.’ I disconnected myself from a small group because I felt different, instead of reaching out and being myself. I developed resentment towards close friends because I felt that I had been judged. Was I judged? Probably not. These were my own issues, my own struggles with wanting to be accepted. I even find myself wearing a mask on my blog. I’ve held back and only written about stuff that I thought I was ‘supposed’ to write about. But, in the last couple of months God has really been working on me. Through this, God has been helping me to peel off these masks. He’s been showing me that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be myself. He made me the way I am for a reason. He’s thrown opportunities my way and allowed me and Brent to begin to reconnect into Christian community.
It’s exhausting to wear a mask every day. I’m challenging myself to peel them off and be who God made me to be. I’m attempting to not worry about what my friends think or how I’m culturally ‘supposed’ to act. I’m going to focus on Jesus and allow Him to guide me. He’s been providing and guiding the Laney’s in tremendous ways this year. It has been painful at times, but ultimately so beautiful and victorious. He’s reshaping us to be more like Him and I think He has redirected our paths that will change our lives. If I’m spending time with Jesus and searching His Word and listening for His voice, He will be pleased. And that’s all that matters.
I wonder if I’m alone with my ‘mask’ issues. If you struggle with masks too, know that I’m praying for you. I pray everyone can throw off their masks and we can all embrace each other in our differences. Jesus has big plans for each of us, and all He wants us to do is please Him, trust Him, and allow Him to mold and shape us to His image.
Emily Laney is a social worker, educator and justice seeker. She has worked with vulnerable populations in the United States and abroad and loves to help start-up nonprofits reach their goals. She is a Passion City Church door holder and leads a team of abolitionists at Not for Sale Georgia. She loves her husband Brent and their rescue pup Biscuit. Sunsets and Sushi make her happy.
You can connect with Emily on twitter @emilylaney or on her blog www.emilylaney.com
Image caption for post: Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography (creative commons)
Image caption for my photo: Photo credit: Katie Luman Photography