Why "Being Real" Isn't That Simple

We would probably all admit that at times, we fail to be real.

It’s not as if being real isn’t a priority. We talk all the time about how important it is. When someone else doesn’t seem to be genuine, we may even call them out. What’s the most common lesson we teach our children? “Just be yourself.” Be real. Don’t play games.

But life itself is a Reality Trap. We feel the temptation to put on a mask when we really need something: a date; a job; admiration; approval. And we know others feel that same temptation, so we’re always peeking behind masks, figuring out who’s putting on a show and who isn’t.

The truth is that it’s hard to be real—much harder than we tell our children. Being real means putting yourself out there; being vulnerable. We’re worried that honesty might make us look needy or weak. If someone asks, “How’s it going?” you tell them it’s great; fantastic; blessed, even when it isn’t, because you don’t want anyone to think you’re not, you know, winning big with every day. The world loves winners.

Not only that, but we’re not too sure we’re even being real with ourselves. There are some thoughts and feelings bouncing around inside that aren’t so cool. We’re aware of them, but we don’t want to stop for a session of dealing with them. Being totally honest about ourselves is draining. So there are times when we even tell ourselves we’re winning big, grabbing the gusto, and deep down we know it’s not the truth.

We’ve seen That Guy at work, or at church, who showed up and acted real. He took off the mask, kind of lost it, cried, and everyone comforted him. Then they went into the next room and whispered about him, before avoiding him until his mask was back in place. Being real is a risky proposition at best. Finding a good, comfortable role, however—a credible mask—greases the wheels of society, business, religion. You kind of manage the truth about yourself. It’s efficient, because you can even wear different masks with different groups. Because one size doesn’t fit all.

So here we are, wearing our masks and grumbling because others are wearing them. We still don’t like it when people aren’t giving us the real deal. Which means they don’t like that about us.

Let’s be real about that. We do need to manage what we reveal about the truth, to some extent. We can’t dump everything we feel on everyone we know, everywhere we go. It’s true that it’s not socially efficient in the imperfect world we live in where, again, the Flawed Nature rule is in effect.

Some editing is appropriate.

We need to know how to share appropriately and sensitively, understanding the various levels of the relationships we have. Filters are helpful. That Guy from work, for example—maybe things would have been different if he’d sought out his closest friend at work, asked him to step into the mailroom, and then shared what was happening. Between the poles of Dump Everything and Share Nothing there are levels and layers, and we’re wise to discern them.

There’s That Lady in the Bible study group with no filter. If she disagrees with your point, you’ll know it quickly and clearly. She says she “tells it like it is,” and she’s proud of the fact. But to us, it seems a little selfish, unloving, and disruptive. The Great Commandment, loving God first and others as ourselves, is still the handiest tool for these moments.

Still, it takes supreme wisdom to find that sweet spot that lies somewhere between abrasive bluntness and fearful silence. Love must be something more than not offending, though of course it begins there. Sometimes it must speak the truth, but in a way that still shows the deep compassion of God. It’s a perilous pursuit, but when we can pull it off, loving authentically is extraordinarily beautiful. If failing to be real comes from an insecurity about the darkness we might reveal, then being real is the courage to let God shine through. For many of us, utter yet loving honesty seems an impossible dream, like slam-dunking a basketball or dancing ballet in Carnegie Hall. But if the things we believe are true, then it’s on the agenda for every one of us. We simply need to see it as his task rather than ours.

If we ever want to live in a world of real relationships, we must lead by example. We have to model loving honesty. And when it comes to dealing with people who aren’t yet convinced of who Jesus is and what he taught— the subject of our new book :-) —we must realize they’ll never be real with us until we’re real with them.