Two weeks ago I moved into a house with four other guys. At the time, I only knew one of them but as a consequence of the move, I inherited their web of friends as well. I did not realize how well connected that house was to their own little bustling community, so that has been one of the best surprises of this season.
In the past two weeks of getting to know my roommates and their friends, I have been overwhelmed by a sense of grace and acceptance. Everyone shares their food and possessions, they are quick to encourage and slow to criticize. And each person, as a result, receives the liberty to be unapologetically themselves.
For example, I was talking to one of my roommates a few days ago. He is a construction worker who comes home every day covered in dust and paint and other construction debris. He has a big beard, loves hiking, climbing, and any other form of being in the mountains.
One of the first nights I was in the home, he and I were having a late-night kitchen talk and he began telling me about his night out dancing. It wasn’t that unusual, I thought, for a guy like him to go out swing dancing.
But then he told me he goes out about four times a week to dance.
I stared at his face, trying to read if he was serious or pulling my leg.
Then he said, “Yah, no kidding. I would consider dancing one of my passions!” His face spread into a wide, sincere smile. Then he did a hop step and turned to descend to his basement bedroom.
The great thing is, everyone here is like that. They don’t fit into one specific category, and I guess the more you think about it, no one does. The difference is, many of us are scared to live out our full self-ness in front of the world. I began to form this into words tonight as I soaked in the hot tub after a workout.
It came to me as a simple question which I’ve been gnawing on for about an hour now:
If you knew you’d be accepted unconditionally, how would you live? Would you act differently?
I’ve been bouncing this question off myself and realizing that a fear of rejection has often fueled much of how I act with others, both friends and strangers. At a party, if a favorite song of mine came across the speakers, the little inner Ethan would be dying to break into a foolish jig, but the image-conscious defense mechanisms prevented it.
Because what if I was too goofy?
Because what if these people don’t like people who dance goofy?
(After years of experimenting, the results prove that everyone likes people who dance goofy.)
I often feel like I’m a little man inside a big mechanical body and I’m always rushing around pulling the levers and oiling the pipes to make sure everything is running smoothly, rather than just inhabiting my own body comfortably and relaxing into my own personality. After all, wouldn’t people rather hang out with a human being than a mechanical, but impressive, puppet?
I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many of us construct these ideas of expectations others have for how we should act and behave around them. We should conform to the expectations they have laid out for us…which we made up in our own minds.
In reality, most of us are happy to be with our friends and family without expectations for how they should act. So why do we construct false ones for ourselves in the minds of others? See how backward that is?
Years ago, my friend Tony laid it out like this. He said, “There are essentially two types of people in the world. The first walks into a room of people and thinks, ‘I haven’t done anything to offend these people, so why wouldn’t they like me?’ The second type walks in and thinks, ‘I haven’t done anything to prove myself to these people, so why would they accept me?'”
If you’re anything like me, the second person describes you but you wish you were the first. I’d love to walk into a room of unfamiliar faces and not feel pressure to impress them or woo them into liking me; I’d like to just be myself.
This bears repeating again: The only one with that pressure and those expectations in their minds for you is you. In other words, assuming you’re out of Middle School, you can genuinely be yourself in the midst of others and not have to worry about being judged or rejected.
(I’m speaking generally here. If your natural tendency is to act out in a violent rage, or tickle strangers with emu feathers, perhaps work on those things first…)
So I bring myself back to this question for myself: How would I act differently in the absence of that fear? I don’t know yet, but I intend to work toward it and find out.
I can tell you two things for sure though:
- Most people will like you more the less you try to impress them. They are probably not scheming to make a fool out of you or holding expectations for you to meet. The truth is, most people like folks who are just themselves, no pretense or image polishing.
- God accepted you before you were born and He is most pleased when you live as who He made you to be. He doesn’t see someone rich, or funny, or intelligent, or whatever factors you use to disguise yourself. He just likes you as you are, so live that out. Be content in that. Adopt the mentality of a child who loves to be with their parents, not because they have impressed their parents first, but because they are loved first and act second. Remember that Jesus died for you before you even took your first breath.
A month before he died, Eugene Peterson was interviewed and asked what he thought about his life. He thought for a moment and part of his reply was, “I’m happy that I just got to be Eugene. I never felt pressure to be anyone else, I was just happy to be Eugene.”
Wouldn’t you love to reach the end of your life and be able to look back and say the same thing? Learning to undo years of social pressure takes time and effort, but I think it’s worthwhile. I think it will be worth it in the end the more we can live as if we are already accepted and act secondarily.
So, how would you act if you knew you’d be accepted unconditionally?
Would your life change if you really believed that?